IAGTO director Peter Walton.
CAMBODIA in general, and Siem Reap in particular, is about to receive a huge boost in support for its nascent golf tourism industry from the International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO) , which has 1,140 member companies, including 330 golf tour operators, in 77 countries.
The organisation's members control 80 percent of the global golf holiday market outside the intra-Asia circuit, and the mission of its president, Peter Walton, is now to boost Asian golf tourism.
"I've just been to Hong Kong for the Asia Pacific Golf Development Summit, where I spoke and said that we are strong everywhere in the world except Asia. Now we will now concentrate on our Asian chapter," Walton told the Post after playing golf in Siem Reap.
Walton said his development plans for the Asian circuit will culminate in a "big event" that he will organise for February-March 2010 to attract 200-plus golf tour operators from all over the world and introduce them to the attractions Asia has to offer in this market.
Siem Reap stands to figure prominently in his plans.
"I most likely will stage the event in one of Asia's capital cities, but I'm sure we will bring a number the tour operators here, in either a pre- or post-event trip," he said.
Walton included Siem Reap in his first major tour of discovery of the region and was impressed by what he discovered.
"Firstly, there is the obvious side attraction of the temples for golf tourists, but the big surprise for me was just how accessible Siem Reap is for the Western market," he said.
Another plus is that Siem Reap already has two international-standard 18-hole golf courses - the Sofitel Hotel-managed Phokeethra Country Club golf course, where the Johnnie Walker Cambodian Open tournament tees off today, and the classy Nick Faldo-designed Angkor Golf Resort - with a third, KTC Leisure Co Ltd's Siem Reap Lake Resort Golf Club, due to have its soft opening this month.
"I've just come from the Angkor Golf Resort, which is a terrific golf course and will certainly help make Siem Reap a golf destination," Walton said.
Variety reaps benefits
Siem Reap is also gaining an edge because golf tourists like locations where there are several golf courses within a 45-minute range of major hotels.
Walton said, "With most destinations, if you have just one golf course you can attract only 15 percent of golfers coming to that region.
"If you have two you can attract 25 percent, but if you have three then you leap to 75 percent."
Walton also predicted that golf tourism in Siem Reap will dip but hold up during the economic meltdown and bounce back late next year.
"After 9/11 the downturn only affected golf tourism only half as much as other tourism sectors," he said.
"Golfers won't be denied their annual golf fix unless they really don't have any money to spend. With oil prices at a two-year low, travel will be cheaper, and interest rates are at rock bottom so those people still in work will have more disposable income."