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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Violent image still poses problem in Hong Kong

Violent image still poses problem in Hong Kong

Despite the Minister of Tourism's upbeat projections for the country's tourism

industry, travel agents in Hong Kong say Cambodia still conjures up images of

horror and war for most people.

"Package Tour of Killing Fields" and

"Horror Prison" reads an advertisement in a leading daily Hong Kong newspaper. A

trip to Angkor Wat is billed as an optional extra but costs more.

Jacqui

Donaldson, manager of promotions and public relations at Dragonair, an airline

which operates two direct flights a week to Phnom Penh, says visitors fear they

will be shot at in Cambodia.

"People are terrified of going there. They

have no idea of what else to expect," says Donaldson, adding that Dragonair,

which uses A320 airbuses, has only had a quarter of its seats booked since the

service started on Aug 3 last year.

Hong Kong travel agent William Lau,

who sells a Cambodia package trip through Marvel Tours, has never been to

Cambodia does not know any Cambodians, and believes he is unable to paint a more

positive picture of Cambodia for travelers.

But, Peter Chan, country

manager of Dragonair, believes the situation will improve. All flights over

Easter are full and they have reduced the cost of a return ticket from $701 to

$450, to compete with Cambodia International Airlines' fare of $403.

"People aren't thinking so much now about Khmer Rouge and security," he

claims. "These days they're thinking more about Angkor Wat."

Nevertheless, discouraging articles continue to appear in Hong Kong

newspapers. The Eastern Express, Hong Kong's newest English-language newspaper,

carried a front page story on Phnom Penh in its feature section last week. A

half-page photograph shows a dark street with soldiers armed with assault rifles

arresting a frightened motorcyclist.

"Cambodia is losing the battle

against crime and corruption," the story reads, after giving details about car

thefts with gunmen bursting into compounds demanding car keys. The story tells

of travelers on the Mekong river being robbed by pirates, and French tourists

being attacked by armed bandits after being dragged from their car. The new

government, the story claims, "is rotten to the core".

But the country's

bad image could soon change if Tan Mau Ieng succeeds in his ambition to promote

his homeland. Tan, one of the few Cambodians living in Hong Kong, runs a travel

agency. He hopes more travelers will put Cambodia on their itinerary if he can

become the main Cambodian Tourist Office and Consulate. "I can do propaganda for

the country and encourage tourists."

He has already approached the Vice

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Uch Kiman, with his proposal. He also is liaising

with the country's new airline, Royal Air Cambodge, in a plan to become their

official representative in Hong Kong.

His agency, located in Prat

Avenue, close to other travel agencies in busy Nathan Road in Kowloon, is

currently known as Vietnam Travel Development Company. With Indochina as its

focus, it will shortly be renamed. Tan took it over last year at a cost of HK$1

million, and already has clients such as Princess Bopha Devy, who passes through

Hong Kong en route to Beijing to visit her father, King Sihanouk.

"Hong

Kongers think that it's still war in Cambodia," admits Tan, who left Cambodia

for France in 1970. He returned to Asia a year ago. "But Chinese businesses here

are interested in Cambodia," he says, "particularly since China has such a good

relationship with the King," says Tan who speaks fluent Cantonese, Mandarin,

French, Khmer, English and Chow Tchou, a dialect.

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