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Visa exemptions costly but worth it: officials

Visa exemptions costly but worth it: officials

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Tourists visit the Angkor Wat temple complex outside Siem Reap in this file photo. AFP

Despite costing millions, extra tourism aids economy, govt says

Tourism officials last week announced the loss of more US$14 million in revenue generated by tourists from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations since January 2008, when the government adopted a visa-exemption agreement with five member-states.

According to a report by the Ministry of Tourism, Cambodia honoured 278,842 visa exemptions in the first half of this year from travellers from Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Vietnam and Laos, which resulted in a loss of $5.5 million in revenues.

The report added that last year revenues declined by $8.6 million after visa exemptions totaling 431,426 were issued to tourists from the same countries.

Minister of Tourism Thong Khon said Sunday that Cambodia would extend the visa-exemption programme to four additional ASEAN member-states despite the loss of revenue.

"We realise that our visa-exemption programme for travellers from ASEAN countries results in lower national revenues, but we will continue it because increased arrivals can boost economic growth Kingdom-wide and will create many jobs for Cambodians," Thong Khon said.

He added that visa exemptions would be extended to all ASEAN countries by 2015.

"Next year, we will implement visa exemptions for Thailand, followed later by Indonesia, Brunei and Myanmar," Thong Khon said.

Ho Vandy, co-chair of the Government-Private Sector Tourism Working Group, said Sunday that the visa-exemption programme could help woo more tourists from

ASEAN nations, adding that the number of Vietnamese tourists rose 40 percent last year following the establishment of the visa exemption.

"I think the [programme] provides a positive sign for tourism providers to increase their service competitiveness in order to lure more tourists [to Cambodia]," Ho Vandy said.Some 552,461 tourists from nine ASEAN countries visited Cambodia, according to Ministry of Tourism data.

Cambodia agreed to its first visa-exemption programme with Malaysia in the late 1990s, adding the Philippines, Singapore, Laos and Vietnam in subsequent years.

The Ministry of Tourism estimates that under the visa-exemption programme, at least 1 million tourists from nine ASEAN countries will travel to Cambodia between 2010 and 2011.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said last week that the Kingdom could expect to lose as much as $20 million in revenue each year if the country implemented visa exemptions with all ASEAN member-states.

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