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India's pilgrims tempt Cambodian tourism officials

India's pilgrims tempt Cambodian tourism officials

Tourism officials here have called for direct flights between Cambodia and India, saying both stand to benefit from the rising numbers of people making pilgrimages to the countries’ Hindu heritage sites.

Tourism Minister Thong Khon said Prime Minister Hun Sen last year suggested to New Delhi that India start direct flights to Phnom Penh or the Angkor temple town of Siem Reap, but that the Indian government had yet to reply.

He said Cambodia was missing out on a “huge” Indian market because there were no direct services to the Kingdom, with Indians instead much more likely to holiday in Singapore or Malaysia, which do not require connecting flights.

The number of

Indian tourists is small, but most of them are rich.

– Thong Khon

“The number of Indian tourists (visiting Cambodia) is small but most of them are rich. They mainly stay at five-star hotels,” Khon told the Post.
“We could easily promote pilgrimage tourism,” he added, pointing to Cambodia’s Hindu heritage, from which the famed Angkor and Preah Vihear temples were created.

Khon said 10,000 Indian nationals visited Cambodia last year, and while the number is growing – 3,000 Indians visited Cambodia in the first three months of 2008, up 18 percent year-on-year, according to Khon – India remains a difficult market to tap.

The Ministry of Tourism leads a delegation of industry representatives to India once a year but is struggling to make significant inroads there because the country is so large and diverse, Khon said.

Ho Vandy, president of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents, said he supported moves to strengthen tourism ties with India but claimed the Cambodian government was “not seriously looking at the Indian market yet.”

But direct, low-cost flights would be a good start, he said, adding, “Everyone wants to see Angkor Wat.”

In return, hundreds of Cambodians would visit India to see the Buddha’s birthplace and where he attained enlightenment, Vandy said.

Saurav Ray, first secretary at the Indian Embassy in Phnom Penh, said “Cambodia-India tourism has fairly good prospects in the short-term and very bright prospects in the long-term.”

However, he said that Cambodia needed to market itself better to Indians, especially to the “huge number” already visiting Thailand.

“Once the Cambodian tourist circuit is well known, there would be a huge surge of Indian tourists to Cambodia. Already the Indian Embassy has received queries … from Indian travel agents,” Ray said by email.

Shamsunndin Khan, an officially sanctioned tour guide in Agra State who specializes in showing around high-profile visitors, said India and Cambodia were very close to each other culturally.

“Your heritage is fabulous, especially the ancient temples,” he told the Post.

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