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Hoping to net more sea visits

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Tourists walk along a pier after disembarking from a cruise ship in 2015. BLOOMBERG

Hoping to net more sea visits

The growing number of foreign visitors arriving by sea represents a promising source of tourism revenue for Cambodia, though limited port and tourism infrastructure has hampered its realisation, tourism stakeholders said yesterday.

May Nimol, deputy director of marketing and promotions at Preah Sihanouk’s provincial tourism department, said 49 cruise ships and foreign navy vessels called at Sihanoukville’s deepwater port last year, compared to 42 in 2015. This translated to 52,654 total foreign tourist arrivals by sea in 2016, representing a 19 percent year-on-year increase.

“Foreign tourist arrivals by sea offer a big potential for the growth of the tourism sector,” he said, pointing out that “passengers arriving on ships are usually wealthy and enjoy spending money during their visits.”

Yet facilities both at Sihanoukville’s port and in the city itself are limited. There is no passenger terminal or tourist amenities at the port such as ATMs or public restrooms, while international luxury hotel brands have yet to establish a presence. In addition, berthing slots are at a premium and many of the cruise ships that call at the port must anchor offshore and ferry passengers to shore in tenders.

Nimol said ships usually spend short periods of time anchored in the Cambodian port due to high docking fees and limited entertainment facilities nearby.

“Passengers arriving at the port only spend a short amount of time there because the current port is so expensive and we are still facing challenges with limited tourism facilities, which don’t incentivise them to stay longer,” he said.

Ho Vandy, secretary-general of the Cambodian National Tourism Alliance, said shorter docking periods for ships also limited the benefits that the tourism sector could reap from the booming global cruise industry.

“The longer passengers stay, the more benefits, both direct and indirect, there will be to the Cambodian tourism industry,” he said.

“The docking fee and visa fees should be kept at reasonable prices and the sector should focus on making sure passengers can have a comfortable stay in resorts or bungalows so that they stay longer.”

Ang Seng Eang, destination manager for Angkor TK Travel and Tours, one of the Kingdom’s biggest operators for cruise tourism, said a wider range of entertainment and cultural activities in Sihanoukville would be good for business.

“Many passengers from cruise ships are retirees and they enjoy spending their holiday by doing activities commensurate with their age, such as going to museums and attending cultural events,” he said.

“However, our tourist destinations have a shortage of facilities for retirees, and if we could expand our entertainment options, it would benefit the entire sector.”

The government has recognised the port’s shortcomings and is working to develop its infrastructure, according to Nimol, who said efforts are also being made to encourage investors to open more tourism facilities in the vicinity. Visitors arriving by sea at Sihanoukville could also benefit from direct flights to Siem Reap to extend their trip, he added.

Nimol added that the Ministry of Tourism was currently seeking investors to build an international-standards shopping mall in Sihanoukville. It also plans to build an international tourist port in Cambodia’s Koh Kong province, which could complement future growth in cruise ship visits.

One positive sign, he said, is that so far this year Sihanoukville’s port has already received 23 cruise ships and visiting naval vessels putting it on course for a banner year.

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