Tourism experts say the government’s decision to hike entrance fees to the Kingdom’s top tourist attraction could see visitor numbers dwindle, and have issued calls for greater transparency and accountability in how the ticket revenue will be used.
The Angkor Institution, the ad hoc agency that manages ticketing for Angkor Wat Archaeological Park, announced on Friday that it would nearly double the entrance fee that foreigners must pay for one-day visits to the ancient temple complex near Siem Reap. Starting February 1, 2017, the cost of the one-day pass will increase to $37, from the current $20, it said.
Ticket prices will also rise for a three-day pass to $62, from the current $40, while a week-long visit pass – valid over a one-month period – will cost $72, from the current $60.
Ho Vandy, secretary-general of Cambodia’s National Tourism Alliance, blasted the Angkor Institution for failing to adequately explain the steep ticket price increase to tourism industry stakeholders.
“I was shocked by the price increase,” he said yesterday. “Why did we raise the ticket price to such a high level like this?”
He said tour operators need an explanation so that they can pass it along to their marketing partners and foreign tourists contemplating a visit to Cambodia.
Luu Meng, co-chair of the Government-Private Sector Working Group on Tourism, said if the government plans to double the ticket price for Angkor Wat, it should provide a solid justification for doing so, as well as an action plan on how it will improve the site and its tourism services.
“When price goes up like this it affects visitors’ feelings, so we need to show them the quality products and services they will receive from the increased price,” he said. “For instance, we should give them a reason, like we will guarantee to provide better hygiene at the site and remove all the rubbish along the entrance roads.”
The government took over control of ticket sales to the Angkor-era site from private contractor Sokimex last November and established the Angkor Institution to manage ticket sales.
Ticket sales during the first six months of the year topped $31 million, a 1.7 per cent year-on-year increase, while the number of foreign visitors increased 0.7 per cent year-on-year during the period to about 1.1 million.
A statement issued by the Angkor Institution on Friday gave no explanation for the sharp increase in ticket prices or the expected impact on tourism. However, it said $2 from each ticket sold would be donated to Kantha Bopha, a Swiss-owned children’s hospital that provides free treatment.
An official at the Angkor Institution, who asked not to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the press, said single-day passes account for about 60 per cent of all tickets sold to Angkor Wat. Another 30 per cent are three-day passes, while the remaining 10 per cent are week-long passes.
Officials at the ministries of tourism and economy – the two top-line ministries responsible for determining the site’s ticket prices – could not be reached for comment over the weekend.
Chao Sun Keriya, spokesman for the Apsara Authority, the government agency responsible for managing the nation’s antiquities sites, said yesterday she was not involved in or aware of discussions concerning a rise in ticket prices.
“I know nothing about that,” she said. “I just heard about it from local media as well.”
Son Chhay, lawmaker of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, said the sharp rise in ticket prices could turn off some visitors. He said if the goal was to increase revenue, the government would do better strengthening the transparency of ticket sales than increasing fees.
“I think it’s the wrong decision because we must not increase the price, but rather lower it,” he said, stressing the importance of tourism to Cambodia’s economic development.
Discussions on online forums were divided over the potential impact of the revised one-day ticket price, with some commentators arguing that Angkor Wat’s visitor fees were relatively underpriced compared to other UN World Heritage sites, while others insisted the spike in ticket prices would discourage visits and damage Siem Reap’s local economy.
The revised one-day ticket price of $37 for Angkor Wat puts its entrance fee at par with that of Peru’s Machu Picchu, and about half the cost of Petra in Jordan. However, the new fee is nearly twice that of Indonesia’s Borobudur, four times the official cost of site entrance to the Egypt’s Pyramids of Giza, and five times the entry fee for sections of the Great Wall of China.
Sa Sarin, secretary-general of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA), said he did not expect the revised ticket price to have a serious impact on the number of foreign visitors to Angkor Wat.
“Angkor Wat is a World Heritage site, so visitors will still want to see it,” he said.