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Temple tourism down over Khmer New Year holiday

Temple tourism down over Khmer New Year holiday

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090421_13.jpg

Preah Vihear hit as Thai tourists stay away while Angkor Wat experiences modest decrease in numbers - a sharp contrast to busy coastal resorts.

Photo by:

Sovann Philong

Many of Phnom Penh's restaurants catering to foreign tourists say they're seeing a slump.  

BARS AIMED AT FOREIGNERS REPORT SLUMP

ALCOHOL is often recession-proof, but Phnom Penh's bars are starting to feel the pinch from the global economic crisis. Riverside Bistro manager Christina Grosse said they had noticed a "sharp decline" since February compared with last year. "It was almost a 50 percent decline," she said, adding that average spending had dropped as people tightened purse strings. Building along the riverfront was also hurting business as tourists had formerly been able to take in river views. "Why would anyone travel 10,000km to sit on a construction site?" she asked. Cadillac Bar and Grill and Reggae Bar and Cafe owner Kenny Friedman said it was the start of the slow season and a decline was expected. "What is more of a threat is the trouble in Thailand," he said, adding that he hoped tourists would start travelling through other hubs such as Singapore. FCC Cambodia had been less badly affected: "Generally it has been a bit down compared to last year, but I think it was because last year was really good," said restaurant manager Benjamin Le Grande.
MICHAEL FOX

CAMBODIA'S two most important temples experienced tourism declines during Khmer New Year, which officials attributed to a precipitous drop in the number of foreign visitors in the case of Preah Vihear, and the overall effect of the economic downturn in the case of Angkor Wat.

The number of tourists at Preah Vihear temple fell from 4,870 last Khmer New Year to 1,476 this year, a figure that included just 13 foreigners, said Kong Vibol, chief of Preah Vihear province's tourism department. The vast majority of visitors to the temple last year - 4,522 out of 4,870 - were Thai, Kong Vibol said, adding that the decline in Thai visitors this year was a result of the ongoing dispute over the temple.    

"There were no Thai tourists at the site, but there was a sharp rise in Cambodian tourists," he said. "As a whole, the situation at the temple was stable."  

The number of tourists province-wide fell by 28 percent, from 7,150 to 5,177, he said.

The tourism decline at Angkor Wat was less pronounced, from 121,855 during last year's holiday to 120,096 this year, said Choey Chan, the administration chief at Siem Reap's tourism department.

He said he believed many prospective tourists "faced financial problems, meaning they did not earn enough money to visit the province this year". He said his office had not yet received data on the ratio of foreigners to Cambodians at the temple complex.

He said he did not believe the decrease would persist.

"I don't think this trend will continue for the rest of the year ... but we can't predict something which has not happened," Choey Chan said.   

In contrast to the drop in temple tourism, the number of holiday visitors to Cambodia's four coastal provinces increased.

In Kep, the increase was dramatic. Sok Chheav, administration chief at the provincial tourism department, said the number of domestic and foreign tourists rose by 48.7 percent to 127,500 during the holiday compared with 2008, a rise he credited to "favourable weather".  

"It was not too hot, and there was no rain," he said.

Nem Sinuon, chief of Kampot's tourism department, said the number of domestic tourists was up 2 percent year on year to 45,647, while foreign tourists increased by 53.5 percent to 559.  

"I suspect that more and more foreigners were attracted to the province because of the rise in foreigners doing business here," he said.

In Preah Sihanouk, the number of tourists increased by 18 percent year on year to 64,800, a figure that Seng Kha, deputy director of the provincial tourism department, said was "mostly" made up of Cambodians.

Bun Beav, director of Koh Kong's tourism department, said that the province's increase - from 12,900 last year to 13,000 this year - would have been higher had the number of foreigners not declined by 7 percent.

Tourism Minister Thong Khon said Monday that he believed the coastal provinces had been successful in attracting tourists because tourism officials cooperated with provincial authorities to host events featuring traditional Khmer New Year games.

But he said provincial businesses did not see large revenue gains because travellers had cut spending. 

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