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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Tourist boom expected to hit 1,000,000

Tourist boom expected to hit 1,000,000

Tourist boom expected to hit 1,000,000

T he number of tourists to Cambodia is expected to double to 200,000 this year

and may soar to up to one million by the year 2000, some officials and tourism

experts say.

Talk of an enormous tourism boom comes hot on the heels of

the country's "extremely successful" return to world tourism trade fairs after a

20-year absence.

Though no figures have yet been released of the amount

of income the tourism boom will generate, the influx is welcome news for the

government, which sees the holiday industry as a savior for the shattered

economy.

The Ministry of Tourism's had estimated that tourism would grow

next year by another 20 percent to reach 240,000 arrivals, but is already

revising this figure upwards.

The predictions are in part the result of

monitoring the number of tourists coming through Pochentong Airport, with a

marked increase in January over December.

Last year there were 120,000

foreign arrivals including 20,000 Untac peace keeping personnel. Of those

Japanese and French tourists accounted for 40 percent between them, with Germany

the third largest market, with a 15 percent share.

Speaking after leading

the Cambodian delegation to the International Tourism Bourse (ITB) trade fair in

Berlin earlier this month, Under Secretary of State for the Ministry of Tourism,

Sok Chenda Sophea, said he believed there was a limit to the number of arrivals

the country can handle.

"In fact, the absorption capacity, i.e. the

number of visitors who can be allowed to visit Angkor's temples without damaging

the site will be our only technical constraint," Sophea said, noting that no

hard figures were yet available on what this capacity was. He declined to

comment on the accuracy of some long-term projections for numbers of tourist

arrivals.

Nhieim Darith, marketing and promotions adviser to the Ministry

of Tourism, who accompanied Sophea to the fair, said: "It was extremely

successful. People were surprised that we were there. We had a very, very

positive reaction."

"We received a lot of expressions of interest from

tour operators, travel agents and journalists."

Darith said visitors to

the Cambodian stand at the fair mostly asked questions about security while

traveling to Angkor Wat.

"We told them how many visitors we had last

year. We said that in December 1993 we had two scheduled flights a day to Siem

Reap. In January we increased the number of flights to three and in March we

added a fourth flight. Tourists are coming to Cambodia."

The influx of

visitors is expected to spark a boom in hotel construction and the government is

hoping to quickly pass a liberal investment law to attract foreign capital.

At present Phnom Penh has more than 4,000 hotel beds, said Sophea, and

there are 6,000 throughout the country. There are many guest houses as well as

hotels in places like Siem Reap, he added.

"We are also attracting

investors who are looking for locations to build hotels. That will take time,

but they are all waiting," he said.

"A promising region for future

tourism development is the southern coast around Sihanoukville. The fine beaches

and untouched islands will be ideal for resort hotels. Malaysian and Thai

investors are already investigating opportunities.

"Our rivers are one of

our greatest resources. Within a year we will be able to offer cruises on the

Tonle Sap River. Longer term we hope to organize cruises on the Mekong River to

the Laos border."

The tourism fair, the largest in the world, included

5,023 participants from 150 countries. Cambodia's stand, measuring 25 square

meters and decorated with traditional silk and kramas, was occupied by the

Ministry's delegation of two, and travel agencies Transair, Bopha Angkor,

Calimexco, Surya Voyages, Naga Tours and Apsara Tours.

Transair director

Hans Walter said: "There was a great response. People were surprised to see the

country represented. Many people did not know how to get here. They didn't know

how to get to Siem Reap. Some didn't even know where Cambodia

was."

Walter said that more than 30 travel agencies will be selling

Transair's trips in their brochures.

Transair's travel manager, Diana

Rimedio, who also attended the exhibition, was equally impressed. "We only had a

small stand, but many visitors stopped to ask questions. Inevitably they asked

about the Khmer Rouge. But they were also very interested in the culture, the

traditions and the services that are offered. I told them we had everything,"

she said adding that bookings will start for the next high season in

September.

Cambodia attracts backpackers along with well-educated, and

middle-class tourists, who come for a cultural visit, said Rimedio. "Typically,

they come for short visits of three or four days, on a tour of Indochina. We

want to persuade them to stay longer," she said.

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