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Industry calls for reduction in travel fees

Industry calls for reduction in travel fees

090212_15.jpg
090212_15.jpg

Tourism sector calls for reduction in tourism fees, ahead of meeting today with government, as part of strategy aimed at halting decline in visitor numbers caused by financial crisis

AFP

Tourists at Angkor Wat. The government is considering strategies to boost tourist numbers.

Tourist fee

  • Travel visa US$20
  • International flight tax

    $25 ($18 for Cambodians)

  • Domestic flight tax
  • $6 ($5 for Cambodians)

Tourism in decline

Mounting evidence suggests that the tourism industry, after years of growth, is entering a decline as foreign travellers feel the financial crisis start to bite.

  • Air passengers down

    Total air traffic through

    Phnom Penh and Siem Reap fell more than three percent, meaning 110,000 fewer pas-

    sengers in 2008 compared with 2007 figures.

  • Total flights down

    Number of flights passing through the country dropped by two percent in 2008 compared with 2007 figures.

  • Angkor Wat visitors down

    Apsara Authority, the

    governmental body respon- sible for managing Angkor Wat revenue says ticket sales dropped 10 percent in 2008 compared with 2007.

  • Hotel occupancy down

    Hotel operators say occu pancy dropped by up to 30 percent this high season.

MEMBERS of Cambodia's travel industry, the Tourism Working Group, said they will meet with Minister of Tourism Thong Khon today to look at dropping travellers' charges in a bid to stimulate the flagging tourism sector.

The private Tourism Working Group said it was looking at ways to try to curb the decline in traveller numbers. Hoteliers have said that occupancy rates are down as much as 30 percent this year, while Cambodia's airports operator Societe Concessionnaire des Aeroports has reported that there were three percent fewer foreign visitors in 2008 over the previous year.

Ho Vandy, co-chair of the Tourism Working Group and head of the Steering Committee of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA), said it was time for the government to act to halt the tourism downturn.

"We [the private sector] cannot do this on our own so the government has to cooperate with us ... to reduce the price of tourist visas, passenger service charges and entry fees at tourism sites," he said.

A government move to reduce tourism charges might not help the industry grow again immediately, he said, but at least such measures could help halt the decline.

Director of Siem Reap Airport Bun Rotha said that in many cases these fees - which are on a par with the rest of the region - are simply those that are hidden within ticket prices in other countries.

We cannot do this on our own, so the government has to cooperate with us.

New CATA President An Kim Eang said the focus has to be on raising traveller numbers. "If the government thinks about this, we can earn a lot of profit for the country ... visitors spend approximately US$70 to $100 per day - that is the benefit," he said.

A rethink of tourism fees would require addressing the issue of companies that have received concessions from the government to operate services, said independent tourism analyst Meoung Son. "If we decrease our prices but those companies don't, then what can we do?" He said, pointing to what he called an unfair and corrupt economic system in Cambodia.

The tourism sector also faces other structural problems, he said, notably over-reliance on foreign airports - especially Bangkok - to receive foreign visitors given the lack of direct international flights to Cambodia.

Government mulls strategy

Thong Khon said that the government would be prepared to consider the working group's proposals if they are workable, but added that such fees were largely irrelevant in the context of the global economic downturn.

"I have a lot of policies and strategies to iron out, given the crisis, not just price decreases. These are being implemented," he said, adding that a reduction in fees would mean a drop in service quality.

"An important way [to promote tourism sector growth] would be to open border gateways to attract tourists," he said.

Cambodia has begun discussions for a visa-free system for overland travel to Laos and Vietnam as part of efforts to stimulate the travel industry, Thong Khon said, and it is also looking at ecotourism as a growth industry.

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