Hotels in the tourist centers of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap have reported a sharp drop
in bookings as the commercial effects of the New York terrorist attacks reach Cambodia.
A leading travel industry figure warned that the situation was likely to get worse
before it improved.
"I think that if the situation in the US is not resolved and people of the world
have no confidence in the safety of traveling, the tourism industry in Cambodia will
get even worse over the next few months. Some travel agencies may be forced to close,"
said Sam On Phoung, secretary general for administration of the Cambodian Association
of Travel Agents (CATA).
At least 20 hotels of three star rating and above in both cities have reported a
large number of cancellations, while around 50 travel agencies have lost money on
ticket sales for travel to the US and Europe.
However, Nuth Nin Doeurn, secretary of state at the Ministry of Tourism (MoT), told
the Post October 3 that the impact of international events should not precipitate
a crisis in the industry.
"Yes, we have lost the market in the US and Europe, but business from other
countries has not suffered," said Doeurn.
He said that the MoT estimated that around 6,000 tourists from the US and Europe
canceled trips to Cambodia in the fortnight following the terrorist attacks, with
tourist arrivals at the capital's Pochentong International Airport down 27 percent.
The number of US tourists visiting Siem Reap fell 70 percent, and the number of Japanese
visitors halved. European tourists dropped 15 percent.
He said the MoT would meet with travel agencies to consider a new strategy to boost
tourist arrivals from other countries in the region, including Japan, China, Taiwan
Doeurn expects the number of visitors to Cambodia to increase 25 percent on last
year, following the trend seen in the first seven months of the year.
The MoT's optimism in the sector's resilience is not widely shared. An opinion survey
of hotels and travel agencies conducted by CATA, reported that hotels have seen on
average 160 room cancellations, while agencies have lost an average 100 tourists
in the two weeks following the attack.
Managing director of Eurasie Travel Agency, Moeung Sonn, said that if uncertainty
continued for more than a few months, he might have to close. Sonn, who has worked
in the sector for 14 years, said his sister company in France had reported sales
of air tickets had halved.
"The impact on the tourist industry is as serious as that in 1997 when the coup
and the Asian economic crisis kept visitors away," he said. "We don't know
how widespread the damage is, or how long it will last."
Eurasie's Sonn said he was not confident that Asean nations would add much to his
business. Most visitors from these countries came here for business or gambling,
he said. "My company survives on tourists from the US and Europe," he explained.
Figures from the MoT showed 346,618 arrivals during the first seven months of this
year. More than half were from countries in Asia and the Pacific.
Doeurn said that MoT figures for 2000 showed that 466,356 visitors came to Cambodia
and spent more than $200 million.