Thai instability leads officials to consider Vietnam as ‘gateway’ to the Kingdom
VIETNAM could become the main tourist gateway to Cambodia as political instability continues in Thailand, government and private sector officials have said.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Mekong Tourism Forum, held in Siem Reap on Friday and Saturday, Ministry of Tourism (MoT) representatives said that volatility in the Thai capital highlighted the Kingdom’s need to diversify from a situation in which Bangkok provides the single “gateway” to Cambodia.
“Before, Bangkok was the main gateway for tourists from Europe and from America. But because it has big problems, maybe tourists will use other gateways such as Vietnam or Kuala Lumpur or Singapore,” said MoT Secretary of State Kousom Saroeuth.
“In the future, maybe Vietnam will become the gateway for tourists coming to visit Cambodia,” he added, stating that he hopes recent signs of reconciliation between antigovernment protestors and the Thai government would “open the door” for tourists.
Members of the private sector are also concerned about the ongoing situation in Thailand, where political violence linked to Red Shirt protests has killed more than 20 people.
Businesses will be forced to adapt or close if Thailand’s instability persists through the next three to five months, Mou Chhay, manager at Phnom Penh-based agency First Travel, told the Post on Friday.
“Usually we have around 300 to 500 guests per month. Now we have only 50 to 70,” he said. Mou Chhay attributed First Travel’s slowdown to Thailand’s insecurity.
Sales manager at Siem Reap’s four-star Angkor Village Hotel, Sokkeo Seng, said that hotel occupants were shifting away from using Bangkok as a gateway.
“For us, most of our guests come through Vietnam,” she said, and added that it was difficult to assess if Thailand’s instability impacted the hotel’s occupancy rate.
Nevertheless, Thai authorities attending the regional conference sought to reassure tourism stakeholders that the nation is still largely a safe place to travel.
“We have had a problem, but it was only in Bangkok and only in one spot in Bangkok. We still have flights [throughout] the country,” said the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s Policy Planning Director Runjuan Tongrut in a speech to delegates.
Attendees of the two-day event included around 100 stakeholders hailing from countries across the Greater Mekong area including Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, and China’s Yunnan province.
Scott Coates, owner of Bangkok-based Smiling Albino travel firm, which targets high-end adventure travel tourists, said the ongoing instability jeopardised Thailand’s global reputation as a tourist destination.
“Previously, Thailand was the only show in Southeast Asia. Now, there are other choices. The last few years made me realise it’s time to diversify,”” he said.
Coates added that Cambodia is on the rise as a tourism destination, and the firm intended to expand its offerings in the Kingdom this year.
Cambodian Minister of Tourism Thong Khon declined a request for comment from the Post at the conference.
Last month, MoT data revealed international tourist arrivals surged by almost 10 percent in the first quarter of this year, compared to the same period in 2009.
Visitors from Vietnam accounted for most arrivals, totalling 92,605 in the first quarter of 2010, a rise of 28 percent on the first quarter of 2009.