GUESTHOUSE owners are opening new hostels in an attempt to lure budget tourists away from Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak lake, a long-established backpacker draw that has been slated for redevelopment.
As the draining of Boeung Kak continued last week, hostel owner Heng Sovy celebrated the opening of his second guesthouse close to the Independence Monument in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmom district.
Mini Banana, which joins his first backpacker-oriented Top Banana guesthouse on Street 278, also known as Golden Street, is a new seven-room establishment that cost US$12,000, discounting the cost of the lease, to set up.
Heng Sovy said that redevelopment, coupled with increasing concerns about safety and cleanliness among travellers, means that tourists may be drawn away from the lakeside towards other areas of town.
“I have no idea where backpackers will go, but I am trying to get them to come here,” he said.
As Heng Sovy is banking on Chamkarmom as a tourist draw, owners in other areas are also contemplating the future.
The area around O’Russey market could become the main backpacker destination if the lake is filled in, said Tat guesthouse owner Touch Thady yesterday.
“In this area, there are guesthouses which have low prices unlike other areas – and backpackers need only cheap guesthouses,” he said.
Despite the changes underway at lakeside, many believe that backpacker dollars will continue to flow into the area.
Cambodia Hotel Association President Luu Meng said that although his association focused on hotels rather than guesthouses, Boeung Kak was still a draw for foreign budget travellers.
“That area is popular for Westerners, and has been so for a long time,” he said.
The lakeside is still visited by Phnom Penh’s residents as well as budget travellers, said Martin Cleary, who recently sold his Boeung Kak bar, the Drunken Frog.
“From what I can gather, they [lakeside establishments] are still getting custom,” he said.
Fewer budget travellers had made the trip to the lakeside in recent months, but it was in keeping with a general decline in backpackers over the year, according to Cleary.
Fallout from the economic crisis, the conflict in Bangkok, and border issues between Thailand and Cambodia could be to blame for lower numbers, he said.
“We’ll find out a bit more in high season,” he said, as business typically picked up in October and November.
Although Cleary has sold his stake in the Drunken Frog, he said it was driven by a lifestyle choice rather than concerns about the fate of lakeside