Ministry of Tourism targets four locations – Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Kratie and Sihanoukville – to improve tourism infrastructure and attract more visitors
Siem Reap Province
Thong Khon, the tourism minister, was quoted in a press conference last week in Siem Reap as saying that the ministry plans to build hospitality and tourism training centres and culinary schools to cater to the demands of newly emerging and developed tourist sites. The schools aim to foster the development of specific skills which will allow students the ability to provide international standard service that is expected of the tourism industry.
Four sites – the capital city Phnom Penh, Preah Sihanouk, Siem Reap and Kratie provinces – are the main targets for building schools that will train the next generation of tourism and service providers who will ensure top quality products for their clients.
Thong Khon, who has recently returned from a state visit to Australia supported by the University of Queensland and AusAID (Australian Government Overseas Aid), said that his five days in the city of Noosa gave him insight into how the seaside city approaches ecotourism and adventure travel development at other Australian sites.
“We want to compete in the global economy. If we don’t have the required standard of service, how do we stand a chance of competing?” he said, adding that “we are determined to complete work in this mandate”.
Thong Khon said he remains committed to Cambodia’s viability as a growing destination with high-quality facilities and services and is certain that the Kingdom’s natural resources and physical beauty can be tapped to shape and strengthen tourism sites.
“In the past, it wasn’t that we had no desire to develop, but we did not dare to develop due to our lack of experience,” he said, adding that Cambodia is capable of building attractive new sites to which tourists will flock.
Cambodia’s limited sea coasts could be compensated for by the numerous riverside locations in several of the Kingdom’s provinces, Thong Khon said.
The four proposed tourism education centres will be designed to train students based on the characteristics of those regions, he said.
For example, Thong Khon said, Siem Reap has been targeted as a centre for culture, Kratie as an ecotourism hub and Preah Sihanouk as a coastal destination. The proposed schools at each of the sites will focus on the speciality of the individual locations.
Development of the training facilities and curricula are being crafted with technical assistance from Australiato ensure that plans proceed efficiently and professionally.
“We already have the land in Preah Sihanouk province, and we will ask for land from the Apsara Authority to build the school in Siem Reap,” he said. “This school needs a lot of funding for necessary materials; it is not like studying for a master’s degree or doctorate.”
He added: “We have to offer quality services as a strategy for attracting and keeping tourists.” The ministry has already selected and sent officials to study in Australian tourism schools, Thong Khon said, in order to provide them with the necessary qualifications for nurturing top-quality services not only in the tourism sector but in the private sector, in schools and in communities as well.
Neb Samouth, an assistant to the minister of tourism, said the ministry delegation had met with Queensland’s tourism institutions, an Australian private training and education council, Queensland’s tourism industry council, Queensland’s commerce institution, Australian ecotourism unit, Seashore City Noosa councillors and Queensland University management.
“They promise to help us develop the tourism sector of Cambodia, especially welcoming the Australian tourism officials to assist us with the training,” Seb Samouth said.
Luu Meng, president of the Cambodia Hotel Association (CHA), said he welcomed the ministry’s plans of establishing hospitality schools to educate students on delivering good service that is vital to the sector’s growth. He was supportive of programs that could impart skills like customer relations and business etiquette.
“Presently, we almost do not have any skilled workers capable of providing standard service,” he said, adding that it would be beneficial for the tourism sector to launch at least two to four service-centred schools in each region.
He said Cambodian universities have been teaching students about management of hospitality but not the softer aspects of hotel and tourism service. “This initiative is very good, so we want to see the government establish it as soon as possible,” he said.
Ang Kim Eang, president of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents, said that Cambodia has, in the last two decades, rapidly developed its hotels, roads, cars and human resources. He said he believed that Cambodia should continue developing its tourism sector.
“Those schools are important in identifying skills needed for good tourism service,” Ang Kim Eang said. “At the same time, the private sector has foreign partners, so we gradually learn from our partners to provide quality service.”
Ang Kim Eang added that around three months ago, the Tourism Ministry called for both state universities and private universities to customise a tourism school curriculum that was well-suited to the industry, but he is unsure of how the plan has developed so far.