With little of the pomp or fanfare that usually accompanies such announcements, co-president
Prince Norodom Ranariddh has declared 1996 "Visit Cambodia Year," Tourism
Minister Roland Eng said.
Eng said that Ranariddh believes tourism can provide the basis for Cambodia's short-term
need for an "injection of foreign investment."
The minister conceded, however, that the country had a lot of work ahead of it before
it could meet the basic demands of most international tourists.
Upgrading Pochentong airport, hotel facilities, transportation networks, restaurants,
and insurance and health facilities are a high priority. "We need an expert
consultant to draw the lines," he said. The ministry has put together an inspection
committee-comprised of representatives from the ministries of health, finance, interior,
environment and tourism-to assess the current status of facilities.
"Pochentong airport can not be used after next year. We must re-organize the
runway and make it safer, [and develop acceptable] air traffic control standards,"
The minister also stressed the need for developing more air links, particularly in
anticipation of a great volume of travelers from island countries. The ministry is
currently reviewing proposals in an effort to establish a new national flag carrier
in cooperation with a foreign carrier.
Before attracting big foreign investors, the ministry faces two formidable tasks:
first, infrastructure development-including transportation, energy, potable water-and
second, to clearly define state rights-legal reform, transparency and administrative
Currently, the major tourist areas of Cambodia-Siem Reap, Kompong Som and Kampot-"operate
under provincial authority without any linkage to [the Ministry of Tourism],"
the minister said. "We must redefine public works-the whole machine."
Eng cautioned that while "mass tourism automatically brings some money... [Cambodia]
must be careful." Prince Ranariddh's policy towards tourism emphasizes the word
"different," stressing the avoidance of mass tourism, a ban on sex tours,
and environmental and cultural preservation, he said.
At the same time the government also appears unsure of the exact direction tourism
should take in Cambodia. "I don't know if Cambodia is a 5-star country,"
Lilli Saxer, managing director of Diethelm Travel, however, has no doubts and urged
the government to develop the top-end market. "If someone wants to build a five-star
hotel, let them sell it. What [Cambodia] should do is offer the best," she said.
Eng pledged the government would also bring more regulation to the sector. While
the hotel industry in Phnom Penh has grown more competitive in a saturated market
with virtually all hotels slashing prices, in Siem Reap prices have soared as the
town's 300 guest rooms have proven increasingly inadequate. Eng said he would develop
"strict regulations for the pricing of hotels."
The minister projects that much of Cambodia's future traffic will be businessmen-citing
Japan, Taiwan and South Korea as potentially large markets. Saxer said if the government
can guarantee security, tourism in Cambodia had a golden future.
"Right now, business is primarily outbound to Bangkok but future business looks
scaringly good." Despite a slump in May and June which she attributed to the
slow season, Saxer said that Diethelm's bookings for November of this year are up
at least 100 percent from last year.
Unlike last year, Cambodia is now listed in all the travel brochures. "Now we're
booking for 1995," she said. Citing reports on security issues in Siem Reap,
Saxer said, "It can ruin you." and urged the ministry to "guarantee
security of tourists in Seam Reap."
"The future will be great. I'm sure. If they can guarantee security, the future
is brilliant,"Saxer said.