Sihanoukville today has no well-developed beaches and tourist infrastructure. This is a problem for the growing tourism industry: Nowhere can you find international standards on the beaches unless you have the budget to afford one of the two private beaches from the only two hotels in Sihanoukville.
Everybody is wondering why there is no development in Sihanoukville, while tourism in Siem Reap is growing much faster. There are probably several reasons why the development of Sihanoukville as a tourist destination is slowed down and is not up to international standards.
The most interesting sites for tourism development are in the hands of land speculators. They do not intend to develop anything on their land, but rather only wait for the price of the land to go up. With a correct promotion of international and national tourism, Sihanoukville could do at least double its current capacity very rapidly.
Sihanoukville has, in theory, more tourism potential than Siem Reap. Why? Because Sihanoukville is not a one-time destination like Siem Reap. If people like it, they will return and return again and again to Sihanoukville. There is also the national tourism and weekenders from Phnom Penh.
The surroundings of Sihanoukville have first-class landscapes, beaches, islands and nature to make out of it a top destination in Southeast Asia.
But for how long? Most of the nature (which is an important element to attract tourism) is under threat. Fishery laws are not respected, destruction of corals and sea bottoms is going on, mangrove areas are filled up for more and more square metres and more and more dollars. Soon there will be no reason anymore to promote nature around Sihanoukville and along the coast. Without the natural landscape, the tourist potential is much-affected.
Almost all the nice and beautiful tropical islands are given under concession for development. Until now (concessions have been granted for a few years already) there has been almost no visible developments on these islands apart from a very few. It looks like most of these islands are in the hands of speculators.
There are no nicely developed beaches available in Sihanoukville. Most of them have been under development for years already and closed – Victory beach, Independence beach, partially Ocheuteal (is it speculation?). Years before these beaches were running well and were popular.
There is no law protecting the nature on the beaches. The beaches in Sihanoukville are very special in a way that trees and vegetation can grow up next to the salty water because there is year-round underground freshwater pressure to the sea. Recent developments on most of the beaches are cutting away at this vegetation so the beaches are becoming very unstable. Last year on Ocheuteal beach all the sand was washed away, all businesses were affected by seawater. Beaches will become more and more unstable and the rising sea levels will make it even worse.
The only remaining popular beaches are Ocheuteal (partly) and Otres. Ocheuteal is popular and crowded, and Otres is still natural and quiet. But also these remaining popular beaches are under threat. Why?
Ocheuteal is overcrowded (limited space), and good sanitation is not available. Recently the government has made efforts to clean up the place, but they do not take into consideration the original shape of the beach. For example, there is no vegetation anymore, and large paved areas for parking. So the beach is unstable and will become even more unstable. Sanitation is improved, but what helps clean toilets if the dustbins stink next to them because there is no organized garbage collection? One collection a day is not enough, and well-sealed and standard dustbins can make a world of difference (acceptable for tourism) for little money.
Otres is now still little-developed compared with Ocheuteal. But things are changing. Many tourists, especially international tourists, are discovering the still-quiet Otres beach. Yet as development on the Otres beach is growing fast and is considered disorderly, it simply needs to be monitored by the government. In no time there will be sanitation problems and destruction of nature. The beach will become unpleasant for tourism.
Last year the government took the good decision to monitor the businesses on the beach. All businesses got visits from a government team, which explained to all the owners how to organize their business and what kind of infrastructure and sanitation is acceptable to the government. Later there was no follow-up on the implementation of these rules, with the current result that there is anarchic development still going on. Now the government is planning a private garden for almost half the length of the beach (1,500 metres). The new plan only shows that they will cut down all original vegetation and plant back non-original garden plants. They seem to plan to transform a unique and beautiful beach into a standard beach like you have all over the world, which means that the existing additional value of the beach is destroyed. It is a pity that for such a reason small investors and hardworking people who still serve the tourism demand in a most honourable way are kicked out of their businesses without any reason.
So why doesn’t the government simply better monitor the existing businesses so that the current tourism demand can continue to be met and the anarchic issues dealt with? The development of the tourism industry will go well with it! In all tourist guides Otres beach is now recommended as the best beach in Sihanoukville. The deception of the next coming tourist may be big, and they will decide not to come back again and again to Sihanoukville.
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