In an apparent bid to reassure jittery visitors watching the country’s political scene, the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA) said in a statement yesterday that post-election tensions would not harm tourists.
Addressing its members – tour operators and travel agencies – as well as national and international tourists, CATA first provides a vague summary of the July 28 election results, which awarded a victory to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
The statement then stresses the “massive non-violent demonstrations” by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which wrapped up a three-day sit-in at Freedom Park yesterday. The CNRP has alleged voter fraud and demanded an investigation. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy and Prime Minister Hun Sen have since met for talks on how to end the stalemate.
The association said tourists were not at risk since the sit-in “complies with democratic expression: peaceful, non-violent, held at a certain area, and authorities are helping to maintain order”.
“It is still safe for tourists to come and visit Cambodia, especially Phnom Penh,” Ang Kim Eang, CATA president said yesterday in an interview.
Nowhere does it mention that authorities discovered and safely disposed of an explosive device outside the National Assembly and three M79 shells near Freedom Park on Friday.
There is no reference to Sunday’s clashes on riverside between protesters and police, and a violent altercation on the Kbal Thnal overpass in south Phnom Penh later that night, which resulted in one man shot dead and others seriously injured.
Several embassies have also cautioned their citizens to remain vigilant and avoid straying too near the protest area.
Eang said the incidents on Sunday happened outside of the opposition party’s official protest area in Freedom Park.
“This morning I tried to go around Phnom Penh myself, to the National Museum, to the Royal Palace; I didn’t see any difficulty, I didn’t see any dangers for tourists,” he said.
On Sunday and parts of Monday, tourists had to wend their way through razor-wire installations and security barricades around the capital.
One of them, Patricia Berlmal, 39, had just arrived from Barcelona. She said she was unaware demonstrations would be happening.
“I would’ve changed my trip and waited until after the demonstrations were over to come,” Berlmal said.
Barricades had prevented tuk-tuks from passing through Sihanouk Boulevard, forcing her to walk to the museum. She felt that had exposed her to a higher chance of pick-pocketing and purse snatching.
Tourism is one of the driving factors of Cambodia’s growing economy, contributing 12 per cent to the country’s GDP last year. Ministry of Tourism statistics show that 2.4 million international tourists visited Cambodia in the first seven months of this year, a 19 per cent year-on-year increase.
Kong Sopearak, director of the statistics department at the Ministry of Tourism, said this week that tourists are still arriving at a steady pace. He said the difficulties in reaching parts of the city only lasted for a short while in small parts of Phnom Penh.
“I don’t think it is affecting the arrival of tourists or the tourism sector,” Phearak said. “Until now, everything in the tourism sector is good, and we don’t have any tourists cancelling their plans to come.”
Eang, the CATA president, said yesterday that although there were no cancellations in existing bookings, potential visitors planning new bookings for arrivals in September or October might consider delaying their trip.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY HOR KIMSAY