MYANMAR’S rising popularity in the tourism sector affected several travel services in Cambodia that claim to have lost customers, especially from Europe, insiders told the Post yesterday.
Kim Nou, country manager of Cambodian tour operator Other Ways, explained: “We noticed fewer tourists from Europe last year. One reason for that is the economic crisis, another is the recent development in Myanmar. Some customers might have preferred Myanmar over Cambodia.”
Nick Ray, adviser at tour operator Hanuman, says travel businesses have been affected for two main reasons: trips to Thailand were combined with Cambodia, but would now often be twinned with Myanmar. Myanmar also has about five to 10 destinations, which is more than Cambodia.
Hanuman, however, dealing mostly with European, UK, US, Australian and regional markets, has not been affected. Its numbers grew about 10 to 15 per cent from 2011 to 2012.
“We offer trips to Cambodia as a standalone [only] destination. Such trips still attract a lot of people, especially regular customers,” Ray said.
However, according to the adviser, the growth in the tourism sector in Myanmar could tail off soon. “Burma is in danger of losing support because of its pricing policy,” he said. Hotel rates would have increased 100 per cent in the past year, and might further increase dramatically.
He also expects coastal areas and islands of Cambodia to attract more tourists over the next few years.
Ang Kim Eang, president of the Cambodian Association for Travel Agents, said he did not notice any changes in the sector because of Myanmar.
“Every ASEAN country has a unique profile, even if the competition has increased. Cambodia is not expensive, and European tourists especially stay here longer than tourists from Southeast Asian countries,” he said.
About 470,000 tourists in Cambodia came from Europe in the first 10 months of 2012, with the bulk coming from the UK, France, and Russia, according to statistics from the Ministry of Tourism’s October report. While it is an 11.3 per cent increase from the same period in 2011, it is lower than the 23.7 per cent overall increase in tourists to Cambodia over that period.
The number of tourists to Cambodia last year looks set to be the highest ever. The kingdom attracted some 2,868,000 tourists in the first 10 months of 2012, only slightly less than the record 2,882,000 tourists set in the whole of 2011.
This likely record-breaking performance was boosted by ASEAN countries, from which 1,234,000 visitors arrived in Cambodia in the first 10 months of 2012 – which is 36.2 per cent more than in the same period in 2011.
“Even though Myanmar attracted more visitors in 2012, Cambodia’s big potential through its cultural heritage remains. However, many people travel to more than one destination in the region,” Tith Chan Tha, director-general of the Ministry of Tourism, said.
Ho Vandy, co-chair of the Government-Private Sector Working Group on Tourism, is not afraid of this new trend in the market.
“I confirm that we noticed that, to some, other destinations like Myanmar were more attractive. This is the reason why we should co-operate more with the private and public sectors of other countries in the region,”
The Government-Private Sector Working Group on Tourism doesn’t see other travel destinations in ASEAN countries as reliant on the others, but, he said: “We follow the ‘win-win strategy’. [We] aim to establish
multinational partnerships. [Therefore] Cambodia has to improve marketing and promotion of the tourism sector.”
For Lav Heng, sales agent for Myanmar Airlines, it is too early to say how attractive the travel connections between Myanmar and Cambodia will be for tourists. “During the past few months most of our customers used our service for business reasons; the number of tourists was small. Meanwhile, more European tourists travelled to Myanmar, about 30 per cent more than flew with Myanmar Airlines in 2011.”
Those in the tourism industry, however, are optimistic. Ang Kim Eang said: “We hope 2013 will be a good year for the tourism sector. We have more airlines, better infrastructure and the single visa with Thailand. Also, last year’s investments in hotels and guesthouses should pay off.”
The Ministry of Tourism, plans to further implement the National Strategic Development Plan, to improve the service industry and standardise the hotel sector, Tith Chan Tha of the tourism ministry said.