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Tourism to northeast soars

Tourism to northeast soars

1.1 million visitors to Cambodia

Tourist arrivals in the first half of 2008 increased 13 percent over the same period last year to 1.1 million, according to tourism ministry officials. Cambodia is targeting three million arrivals a year by 2010.

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ourist arrivals to the northeast more than doubled in the first half of 2008, compared with the same period last year, officials said Thursday, adding that the wild Ratanakkiri and Mondulkiri provinces were ideal for the Kingdom's nascent eco-tourism sector.

Some 77,678 people visited Ratanakkiri between January and June of this year, said Uy Keoun, deputy director of the provincial tourism department.

He added that most are drawn to Vireachey National Park and the ethnic minority villages that dot the province.

Some 10,000 visitors traveled to Mondulkiri, known for its mix of jungle and high, sweeping grasslands, in the first half of the year, said provincial tourism official Ngin Sovimean.

As interest in these once isolated provinces grows, tourism officials are trying to tailor local attractions to fit a rising demand for eco-friendly tourism.

"The regional and global tendencies favour eco-tourism," said So Mara, undersecretary of state with the Ministry of Tourism. "It is becoming poppular because it connects the environment to the people and is good for taking away the stresses of modern life." he added.

The government also sees eco-tourism as a means of preserving both the environment and traditional culture, as well as a way to lift provincial villagers out of poverty by providing them with jobs as guides or craftspeople making goods for sale.

"Tourists make the local communities better off," So Mara said.

"The ministry is teaching people in the local communities to conserve nature and make a living off of it, rather than killing the animals and cutting the forests," he said.

Both provinces have set up community commissions to preserve targeted eco-tourism sites, like the Bou Sra waterfall, which is one of five such sites in Mondulkiri province.

Eleven sites are controlled by these commissions in Ratanakkiri.

"We have information centres ... and are trying to improve guesthouses and other services," Uy Keoun said.

But officials say the provinces still lack the infrastructure to make them easily accessible, while local communities are hesitant to heed their conservation message.

"These are the main barriers to the fast development of the tourism sector in these provinces," Ngin Sovimean said.

Cambodia remains on track to reach its target of 2.3 million foreign visitors this year, according to tourism officials, although more Cambodians are also travelling throughout the country, bringing much needed income to some of the Kingdom's more far-flung destinations.

Tourism arrivals topped two million for the first time last year, and the sector remains one of the few success stories in a country recovering from decades of civil strife. 

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