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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Tourism industry set for high season boom

Tourism industry set for high season boom

With the monsoon season coming to an end, Cambodia's annual deluge of tourists is

about to begin.

This season the industry is bracing for a half million or more tourists between now

and Dec. 31 as predictions for a record year look likely to come true.

Thong Khon, Minister of Tourism said Cambodia is expected to get two million tourists

in all of 2007, up from 1.7 million in 2006.

"Already from January to September, more than 1.3 million tourists visited,"

he said.

A spot check of hotel bookings confirmed that business is booming. High-end establishments

from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville reported they are booked solid for the busy season

- from November through next April.

"Our understanding is that most major hotels are running on full from November

on," said Philip Set Kao, President of the Cambodian Hotels Association (CHA)

and General Manager of Borei Angkor Hotel.

Set Kao said much of the increase is due to improved flight schedules, better roads

and air routes.

He said a regular charter flight from Tokyo to Siem Reap scheduled to start in November

is already having an effect on bookings.

The emergence of low-cost Asian airlines such as JetStar and AirAsia is bringing

more tourists from Singapore and Malaysia, he said.

South Korea, Japan and then the U.S. have topped the list of tourists coming to Cambodia

for the past two years.

The June crash of PMT Flight AN-24 -- en route from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville -

that killed 22 including 13 South Korean tourists - did not dent the Koreans appetite

for Cambodia. "Maybe they stop flying that particular route, but they still

come," said Set Kao. "I didn't see any drop in South Korean tourist numbers

after this crash."

Although in sheer numbers the visitors are coming, the bulk still do not spend many

days in Cambodia and tourism officials continue to struggle with ways to get more

visitors to do more than spend a few nights at Angkor Wat.

"We try to promote other destinations in Cambodia to get longer stays,"

said Ho Vandy, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA). "This

is our objective and goal. Not just that tourists spend three days in Angkor Wat

- we want to give them other experiences of Cambodia." The government has been

working with private sector groups such as CATA for advice on issues such as infrastructure

development and new routing for airlines. CATA also is pushing the government to

implement the tourist law, currently in draft form, aimed at making the sector more

transparent and weeding out unlicensed or unscrupulous travel operators.

"At the moment, there are a few travel agencies who have no license, who don't

pay taxes, and who simply pack up and run when they have a problem," he said.

"We don't want this in the sector," said Vandy.

A major hotel building boom has also greatly increased the number of hotel rooms

available. According to Yong Vorn, the director of the Tourism Industrial Department

of the Ministry of Tourism, at the end of 2006 Phnom Penh had more than 9,500 rooms,

including 137 hotels with a total 7,068 rooms and 197 guest houses with a total of

2,506 rooms.

Siem Reap had more than 9,000 rooms including 91 hotels with a total 6,638 rooms,

and 171 guest houses with a total of 2,384 rooms.

But with tourism still largely centered on cultural and natural tourism - meaning

the temples at Angkor Wat - the private sector is looking for other attractions.

"The private sector would like to have a theme park or an amusement park,"

said Vandy. "It is important for attracting tourists with children. Thailand,

Singapore, Malaysia all have one - we are seeking investors for this project."

CATA also is eager to see the establishment of a national airline carrier.

The contrast between the visitors to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh is demonstrated by

Raffles hotel chain's two properties - the Grand in Siem Reap and Le Royal in Phnom

Penh.

"The two properties are very different in how and who they attract," said

Julia Fesenberg, marketing and communications executive for Raffles.

Visitors to Phnom Penh tend to be business people. "In Siem Reap, that property

lives for people who come for three days. Angkor Wat is a monostop. It is tagged

onto other trips - people want to 'up-culture' their holiday and so they spend a

few nights at the temples."

The advantage of being tourist-dependent has a downside. Siem Reap is more dependent

on the season and more prone to seasonal fluctuations. Throughout high season from

November to April - the Grand is nearly always full. In low season occupancy drops

to 60 to 70%. Le Royal on the other hand has a fairly regular stream of clients regardless

of season.

"All of the hospitality industry wants to get Cambodia to the point where it

is a total destination - where you plan to spend two weeks in the country,"

said Fesenberg. "Phnom Penh is, after all, a royal city, a capital city, and

then there are the beaches and the temples. One day, Cambodia should be a destination

in itself. Phnom Penh is more unique - this is a city with hidden treasures, you

can't do it in one day with a guide book."

Still visitors to Phnom Peng have increased dramatically.

Millan Lov, the third generation in the family that owns and runs the Indochine Hotel

chain established in 1992, told the Post their business has never been better. He

said more than 90 percent of the rooms at their two Phnom Penh hotels are booked

for the season. He said low season occupancy was still at 60 to 70 percent.

"From year to year the tourist sector has grown up," he said. "In

Thailand now they are not very stable politically, and they had the tsunami. I think

these are factors in why more tourists come to Cambodia now."

He said that improved transportation and safety has been a key factor. "Also,

five years ago you couldn't use your Visa in Cambodia. Now, you have ATM machines

in all the towns and major places."

Lov thinks that the southern beaches are also picking up popularity in comparison

to better known and more crowded resort towns like Pattaya in Thailand.

Set Kao said improvements in the roads and transportation are the key to growth in

tourism.

He said cheap flights and more flights between Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville

would encourage tourists to stay longer.

"If you want to have more tourists improve the quality of infrastructure,"

he said. "Infrastructure is the main issue - roads, airlines."

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