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Angkor Wat still top draw

A tourist purchases a tickets at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap.
A tourist purchases a tickets at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. Heng Chivoan

Angkor Wat still top draw

Ticket sales revenue for the Angkor Archaeological Park near Siem Reap, the country’s biggest tourist draw, increased by 4.2 percent last year - the first year since the government took over ticket sales management from the private firm that had operated it for 17 years.

Data released yesterday by the Angkor Institution, the park’s state-run ticketing agency, showed the number of tickets sold in 2016 topped 2.19 million, generating nearly $63.6 million in revenue for the state coffers.

The Angkor Institution was established in January 2015 after the government took control of ticketing services from local firm Sokimex, a firm owned by tycoon Sok Kong. The decision followed repeated allegations of financial irregularities.

Chhay Sivlin, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA), said the government has demonstrated its competence in handling ticketing for the ancient temple complex, and tourists were benefitting from easy access to Angkor Wat.

“The ticketing service offered by the government body is going smoothly,” she said. “We hope that the government will use some part of the revenue for the tourism infrastructure around the park and make the place more attractive to tourists.”

Sivlin said she expected the government’s management of ticketing to improve as it gained more experience.

In 1999, the government outsourced ticket sales for Angkor Archaeological Park to Sokha Hotels and Resorts, the hospitality arm of Sokimex, under a profit-sharing scheme with the Apsara Authority, the government body that manages the ancient temple complex. Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the end of the arrangement during a cabinet meeting in November 2015, with the handover taking place last January.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan denied at the time that persistent rumours of corruption had led to the decision to end Sokimex’s concession.

“When the business started, the government needed a partner. At that time the government had no ability to invest in that sector, so we looked to the private sector,” he said.

“Now the government sees this business is stable, the number of tourists has increased and, instead of partnering with the private sector, the government prefers to do it on our own to maximise the income for the state.”

Ho Vandy, secretary-general of Cambodia’s National Tourism Alliance, said the ticket sales revenue figure for this year was slightly disappointing given the solid tourism growth witnessed in other ASEAN markets. He said the government and private sector needed to do more to provide better services and attract more tourists.

The Angkor Institution announced last August that it will nearly double price of single-day passes for foreigners and increase the fees for multi-day tickets to the Angkor Archaeological Park starting February 1, 2017. The move prompted widespread fears that the price hike could discourage many tourists from visiting the site.

Vandy said he expects the higher ticket fees will increase overall revenue, but any drop in tourist visits would have negative repercussions on the broader economy. He suggested that the government work to incentivise tourism, encouraging visitors to stay longer in Cambodia, which would lead to higher profits for everyone in the sector.

However, he said he was willing to give the new price scheme a chance.

“Let’s go with the flow at first and then wait and see how the results [of the increased fees] for this year turn out,” he said.

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