AS tensions subside between Thailand and Cambodia over the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple, site officials are welcoming a steady increase of international tourists. At 5,240, foreign visits are up 56 per cent in the first six months of the year, compared to the same period in 2012, when 3,359 made the trip, according to statistics from Preah Vihear provincial tourism department.
Cambodians, however, are arriving in fewer numbers. In the same period last year, 56,781 came to the site, a figure that now stands at 36,340.
You Sovan, deputy of the Preah Vihear tourism department, attributes the increase in overseas visitors to road improvements and greater stability in the border area around the temple. The peace, he said, also explains the decrease in local visitors.
“We got more and more foreign tourists to visit the temple because they want to see what has been happening to the temple after the clashes, and they know that we keep the area safe,” he said, adding that the drop-off in Cambodians had to do with the fact that many had visited out of a sense of solidarity when tensions with Thailand were greater.
But the hike in out of town visitors, who stay in new hotels and go out to eat, is a boon to the local economy, business owners say.
Nou Chanty, the owner of Ponloeu Preah Chan Guesthouse in nearby Srayong village, said her business has seen a sharp increase this year compared to the previous few years.
“The development of the area, like the roads, means that tourists feel more comfortable and safe when they visit” she said.
Tu Kimsreoun, who works the front desk at the Preah Vihear boutique hotel, said that its 32 rooms are often fully booked.
“Most western tourists visit here just to see the temple. They want to know how attractive the temple is,” Kimsreoun said.
At the provincial tourism department, Sovan expects numbers to continue to rise when a new bridge and road connecting Stung Treng province to Preah Vihear province is completed in 2014.
“I hope that we will receive more tourists, particularly from Vietnam and Laos”
The President of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, Ang Kim Eang, cites Cambodia’s chairmanship of ASEAN last year and the recent World Heritage Conference in Phnom Penh as opportunities to broaden Cambodia’s tourism base and present it as a cultural destination, while highlighting sites like Preah Vihear.
“Cambodia is now moving beyond an emerging destination; now we become a world cultural destination,”
Violent and sometimes fatal clashes sporadically occurred from 2008 to 2011 between Thailand and Cambodia over disputed territory abutting the temple, which was granted to Cambodia in 1962.
Last month both countries agreed to maintain stability and abide by a decision on the contested area that the International Court of Justice is expected to hand down later this year.