Cambodian travelers are boycotting travel to Thailand following rising tensions between the two nations over the military standoff at Preah Vihear, said Cambodia Association of Travel Agents president Ho Vandy.
“Before Thailand invaded Cambodia, hundreds of Cambodians traveled to Thailand for medical treatment, but now they are looking for more choices,” he said.
Cambodians spend millions of dollars a year traveling to Bangkok for medical treatment or go shopping, but with a boycott “Thailand will lose a large amount of this,” said Eurasie Travel managing director Moeung Sonn.
The feeling appears to be mutual. About 1,000 Thais have cancelled their visits to the “famous Angkor Wat ruins,” the Bangkok Post wrote on July 14, since the ownership dispute erupted over territory around Preah Vihear temple.
Diethelm Travel Siem Reap manager Choup Lorn told the Post, “Thai tour guides here in Siem Reap say there are not too many Thai tourists now because of recent developments.”
But Cambodian Minister of Tourism Thong Khon was predicting that the current tension between Thailand and Cambodia would have little long-term negative impact on tourism.
Siem Reap tour operators were additionally hopeful that, once the political controversy surrounding Preah Vihear subsides, the temple’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site would open a new tourism frontier for them, via Siem Reap.
Tourism to the temple through Siem Reap was currently negligible, however, admitted Annetta Graf, manager of the Siem Reap office of Destination Asia (Cambodia) Ltd.
“We have maybe three requests a year for people to go there by helicopter,” Graf said. “We do not recommend that our clients go there overland at the moment.”
But if infrastructure were upgraded, the site could be an important add-on to the Siem Reap travel experience, encouraging tourists to extend their stay, she said.
“In the future, there is really big potential for trips to Preah Vihear and other nearby temples,” said Graf.
Sem Fousing, outbound operations supervisor of Exotissimo Travel Cambodia, said Exotissimo was waiting for the politics surrounding the Preah Vihear issue to die down before firming up plans to send tourists to the region.
“We don’t focus on the area at the moment because of the politics... But it is on our proposal for next year and it will be part of our new adventure department so that people can trek as well as visit the temple.”