Tourism authorities are concerned that the role of Siem Reap’s Cambodian tour guides catering to Korean tourists is being usurped by interpreters, with the tour guides being relegated to mere porters.
This is mainly due to the lack of tour guides who can converse in the Korean language, and is just one of a myriad of problems arising out of the rapid increase of tourists at the temples.
The issue was raised during the Reinforce Tour Guides meeting at City Angkor Hotel on August 13. A tour guide claimed that Korean interpreters look down on Cambodian tour guides and cited an instance where an interpreter treated a Cambodian guide as a “slave,” and “spoke violently,” wounding the tour guide’s pride.
He said Korean interpreters always act as though they are the guides, and make the official Cambodian guides carry the tourists’ stuff, such as water and umbrellas.
Tith Chantha, Director General of the Ministry of Tourism, said the solution is down to the actions of the Cambodian guides who need to comport themselves in a manner that will engender respect.
But he added that all tour guides must be Cambodian, and not recruited from other nationalities such as Korean.
He said, “The government has to protect the rights of Cambodian tour guides by allowing only Cambodian people to work in this career. Interpreters are just people who work temporarily when they are needed.
“The Tourism Ministry provides interpreters with legal paperwork to work for only six months to translate what the tour guide has said when there are no Korean-speaking Cambodia guides available.”
He added that the problem has been exacerbated by the increase in the numbers of Korean tourists.
“We have only 123 Korean-speaking guides,” he said, “And Korean tourists are increasing. We now receive more than 30,000 Korean tourists every year. Sometimes our Korean guides are not available, and then we need help from Korean interpreters.”
But he stressed, “Please do not confuse the issue and think that the Tourism Ministry will allow Korean people to work as guides in Cambodia. They are to work as interpreters only. Only Cambodians can work as guides because they know clearly about Cambodian culture and history.”
Ngov Seng Kak, director of the Tourism Department in Siem Reap also weighed in, pointing out that there had been a 32 per cent rise in tourism at Angkor in the first six months of this year, compared to the same period last year.
He said, “Cambodia still needs to improve human resources in regard to the Korean language, and other languages such as Vietnam and Russian. But we respect our Cambodian guides because only they can describe the truth of our history to tourists.”
But the Korean interpreter saga was only a side issue at the seminar.
In a long discussion, the Minister of Tourism, Thong Khun explored the major problem that will affect Angkor tourism by 2020 – the ever increasing number of visitors.
Cambodia expects visitor numbers to the Kingdom to increase to about 7 million tourists annually, with 4 million visiting Siem Reap Angkor.
He said, “There will be 10,000 international tourists and 10,000 local visitors visiting Angkor Wat temple everyday. How can we manage our temple with this massive flow of the tourists in that period?
“Recently the Tourism Ministry as well the Apsara Authority have resolved to find the best method to protect our temples.”
Meanwhile, the third meeting of the ACMECS Tourism Working Group meeting was held at the Angkor Paradise Hotel on August 14, to discuss the enhancement of the intra-regional cooperation on tourism sector.
ACMECS is the economic cooperation framework known as the ‘Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy’ of the member nations – Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.
The meeting centered on the promotion and advertising of a common tourism-market in the region with the ‘Five Countries, One Tourism Destination’ strategy.
This will facilitate tourist transits at international borders and connect flights among the member nations with international flights.
Tith Chantha, Cambodia’s Director General of Tourism, said the strategy is a cooperation framework between member countries to exploit diverse strengths and promote balanced development.
He said, “We will try to determine how best we can further link up and develop our national and cultural tourism products in an environmentally sustainable and responsible manner by promoting and marketing them to international market.
“I am strongly convinced that the sub regional travel facilitation is another key priority for us to tackle for our own citizens and the third nations traveling in our region as we aim to attract more intraregional and international visitors.”
He noted that Cambodia and Thailand have embarked on a single visa pilot project, which hopefully will soon be activated.
He stressed that intraregional tourism markets are really important, and the increase in visitor numbers from Vietnam, Lao PDR and Thailand is “remarkable.”