In a three-hour meeting yesterday, lawmakers grilled Minister of Tourism Thong Kong about the lack of transparency surrounding ticket sales to the Angkor Archaeological Park and the amount shared with Cambodia’s national budget.
About 30 parliamentarians and senior members of the ministry met at the National Assembly at the request of Nhem Ponharith, an opposition MP who chairs the Assembly’s commission of education, religious affairs, culture and tourism.
“We spend a lot of money to promote the tourism industry,” Ponharith told reporters after the meeting yesterday. “We want income from the tourism industry to go into the national budget properly for the interest of national development.
"We should not allow a private company to earn free benefits from selling tickets to tourists at Angkor Wat.”
Ticket sales are currently handled by the government's Apsara Authority, rather than by the ministry, Khon said after the sit-down – referring to the authority's deal with private contractor Sokimex, who are contracted to oversee ticket sales. The agreement has long been disparaged by critics, who say the government isn’t getting its fair cut.
But given the number of other responsibilities that fall under his ministry’s purview, taking over ticket sales at Angkor Wat is not a desired task, Khon said.
“The National Assembly’s tourism commission demanded the Tourism Ministry to take control of the selling of tickets at Angkor Wat; but the ministry … would rather leave this to the Apsara Authority,” Khon said. “However, the National Assembly’s tourism commission insisted, so we will take it under consideration.”
Last year, 4.2 million tourists came to Cambodia, Khon said, which earned private industries such as hotels, restaurants and transportation revenues of more than $2.5 billion and created about 500,000 jobs.
Projections show that by the year 2020, Cambodia should welcome between 7 million and 8 million tourists, who will bring about $5 billion to the Kingdom’s economy and create some 1 million jobs.
The Minister of Culture is due at the Assembly for questioning on November 26.