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Souvenir sellers suffering

Souvenir sellers suffering


Falling tourist arrivals are taking a toll on tchotchke vendors, with some fearing bankruptcy if business doesn't improve.

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A souvenir vendor in the Russian Market in Phnom Penh. Fewer tourist arrivals mean tough times for market vendors. 

SOUVENIR store operators in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh may face bankruptcy if tourism does not recover quickly, with revenues down by as much as 70 percent in recent months, say vendors.

Mam Ros Chamroeun, the owner of Asian Silk Souvenir Shop in Phnom Penh, said monthly revenues have plunged from US$1,500-$2,000 in mid-2008 to only $400 a month currently.

"Our businesses have been kept alive by tourists," he said. "If tourist arrivals continue to drop, our businesses will go bankrupt."

According to Ministry of Tourism figures, 2.125 million foreign tourists visited Cambodia in 2008, up 5.5 percent from 2007.

But arrivals dropped 6.5 percent in the second half of the year after growing 12.6 percent in the first six months, meaning the government missed its target of 2.3 million visitors in 2008.

In January, Tourism Minister Thong Khon told the Post that the global financial crisis and ongoing political turmoil in Thailand - a major tourist gateway to Cambodia - were behind the downturn.

He said that the souvenir trade earned 20 percent to 25 percent of tourism sector revenue, estimated at $1.4 billion in 2008, or about $700 per arrival.

The official expected total revenues to climb to $1.5 billion in 2009, with a full recovery by 2011.

Thouch Kunthea, owner of Khmer Princess Souvenir Shop, also in Phnom Penh, said revenues had fallen between 50 percent and 60 percent in recent months.

"Now I am already considering leaving my business, and I think that the downturn will continue to get worse," she said. Lim Nam, the owner of Angkor Night Market in Siem Reap, said that the downturn had forced him to lower rents to attract operators. Sales in the market had dropped by 50 percent, he said.

"It is not like 2007," he said. "Sales have slumped since 2008, and we have been forced to decrease rentals from $150 to $100 per stand, but still nobody wants to rent because they cannot earn."

He said he was worried he faced bankruptcy if the market does not recover.

Men Sinoeun, executive director of the Artisans Association of Cambodia, a training and trade facilitation organisation, said sales were healthy in the first six months of last year but dropped between 40 percent and 50 percent over the second half.

"Souvenir markets are going to drop even further no matter what we do because potential buyers lost income when the world financial crisis happened," he said.