TOURIST visits to Preah Vihear temple declined following February’s border clashes, with foreigners in particular staying away from the province, according to provincial Tourism Department chief Kong Vibol.
Some 15,703 total tourists visited the temple complex from January to March this year, from 19,109 during the quarter in 2010 – though he said January 2011 had been particularly strong for tourist arrivals.
“Visitors to the temple came mainly in January before the deadly fighting, while some arrived in March,” he said.
“In February, the temple received not even a visitor.”
Violent clashes broke out between Cambodia and Thai forces between February 4 and 7 in areas claimed by both sides near the Preah Vihear temple complex.
Some 803 foreigners visited the temple during the first quarter 2011, of which 690 arrived in January, before the clashes broke out, said Kong Vibol.
By contrast, during the first quarter of 2010, 159 foreigners visited Preah Vihear temple.
Foreign tourists continued to stay away, despite fighting largely ending in the first week of February, he said.
“Military confrontation still continues since [the clashes], so visitors are still scared to visit the temple.”
Cambodian Association of Travel Agents President Ang Kim Eang said the government of Cambodia welcomed tourists to the site, adding Preah Vihear had the potential to become second to the Angkor Wat complex as a draw card for international visitors.
“For everyone who’s been there, it will be easy to answer why it is on the World Heritage list,” he said.
The combination of an impressive temple in a natural surrounding makes Preah Vihear “very unique”, said Ang Kim Eang.
The arrival of Indonesian observers to the area would be the “first step” to attracting tourists back to the temple complex, he added.
“The Cambodian side always welcomes tourists.”
However, Kong Vibol said it would likely take some time for tourists to return to Preah Vihear at the levels seen before February's confrontation.
“Tourists have begun to increase so far this month,” he said.
“But I think tourists are still concerned about the current confrontation at the border, though we haven’t had any clashes [recently].” ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JEREMY MULLINS