With ASEAN integration looming, Cambodia’s tourism sector is both optimistic and cautious about what it means for an industry that has witnessed unprecedented growth over the last few years.
Ho Vandy, co-chair of the private sector and government working group on tourism, believes that large tourism companies will benefit from the change, while “small businesses are likely to need more time to adapt themselves to the new environment.”
It will be like a new season for companies or individuals with sufficient resources and proper experience, he said.
When ASEAN integration arrives, citizens of the 10 ASEAN countries will be able to travel without using visas, including some international visitors. This will be a boon to tourism as more visitors will come, making the tourism sector an important part for each country’s economy in the ASEAN region.
“In my experience, no one can move or travel without spending money. For example, all visitors need services or means of travelling from one place to another. They need food, accommodation and services at resorts, as well. The money spent will fall in the hands of many people directly and indirectly,” he said.
“We had hoped over the past few years that Cambodia would get a lot of tourists from ASEAN countries adjacent to the country, such as from Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, since the short distance of borders made it easy for people to travel by land,” said Kong Sophearak, director general of the department of statistics in the Ministry of Tourism.
According to a report from the Ministry of Tourism, Vietnamese tourists were the most frequent visitors to Cambodia in the first quarter of 2015, with 225,600 visitors arriving in Cambodia compared to 189,816 visitors in the same period of 2014 – an increase of 18.9 per cent. China had the second highest number of visitors to Cambodia, with 187,126 visitors in the first quarter of 2015 compared to 162,868 from the same period as 2014 – an increase of 14.9 per cent.
By contrast, the number of tourist coming from South Korea dropped by 10 per cent, from 177,716 visitors in 2014 to 159,897 this year.
Sophearak said that over the past few years, large travel agencies in ASEAN countries have attracted tourists with holiday packages, highlighting a trip to Angkor Wat. The temple complex has been a major draw for ASEAN tourists as well as those from other countries.
However, there are other sites in Cambodia popular for tourists beyond Angkor Wat. They include Phnom Penh and surrounding provinces, the beautiful, natural coastlines of the southwest and ecotourism areas in the northeast of the Kingdom.
“Our services were friendly and gentle, with good accommodations, which are cheaper than neighboring countries. Food prices were also reasonable and there was a lot of security to ensure safety,” said Sophearak.
However, he also acknowledged challenges including the lack of road infrastructure in Cambodia and how badly it compares to other ASEAN countries. “We have some difficulty travelling from one destination to another,” he said.
In terms of the flow of tourists into the ASEAN region, Sopheareak said, “In the future, when ASEAN highways are well connected, including Cambodia, we will receive an even bigger flow of tourist from ASEAN countries.”
However, Vandy is concerned that with more arrivals, “Cambodia has to ensure good governance for its resorts, especially around the Angkor area, and satellite areas must be 100 per cent safe – including infrastructure, good environment and service provision from professional stakeholders, with responsibility to every tourist.”