T he number of tourists to Cambodia is expected to double to 200,000 this year
and may soar to up to one million by the year 2000, some officials and tourism
Talk of an enormous tourism boom comes hot on the heels of
the country's "extremely successful" return to world tourism trade fairs after a
Though no figures have yet been released of the amount
of income the tourism boom will generate, the influx is welcome news for the
government, which sees the holiday industry as a savior for the shattered
The Ministry of Tourism's had estimated that tourism would grow
next year by another 20 percent to reach 240,000 arrivals, but is already
revising this figure upwards.
The predictions are in part the result of
monitoring the number of tourists coming through Pochentong Airport, with a
marked increase in January over December.
Last year there were 120,000
foreign arrivals including 20,000 Untac peace keeping personnel. Of those
Japanese and French tourists accounted for 40 percent between them, with Germany
the third largest market, with a 15 percent share.
Speaking after leading
the Cambodian delegation to the International Tourism Bourse (ITB) trade fair in
Berlin earlier this month, Under Secretary of State for the Ministry of Tourism,
Sok Chenda Sophea, said he believed there was a limit to the number of arrivals
the country can handle.
"In fact, the absorption capacity, i.e. the
number of visitors who can be allowed to visit Angkor's temples without damaging
the site will be our only technical constraint," Sophea said, noting that no
hard figures were yet available on what this capacity was. He declined to
comment on the accuracy of some long-term projections for numbers of tourist
Nhieim Darith, marketing and promotions adviser to the Ministry
of Tourism, who accompanied Sophea to the fair, said: "It was extremely
successful. People were surprised that we were there. We had a very, very
"We received a lot of expressions of interest from
tour operators, travel agents and journalists."
Darith said visitors to
the Cambodian stand at the fair mostly asked questions about security while
traveling to Angkor Wat.
"We told them how many visitors we had last
year. We said that in December 1993 we had two scheduled flights a day to Siem
Reap. In January we increased the number of flights to three and in March we
added a fourth flight. Tourists are coming to Cambodia."
The influx of
visitors is expected to spark a boom in hotel construction and the government is
hoping to quickly pass a liberal investment law to attract foreign capital.
At present Phnom Penh has more than 4,000 hotel beds, said Sophea, and
there are 6,000 throughout the country. There are many guest houses as well as
hotels in places like Siem Reap, he added.
"We are also attracting
investors who are looking for locations to build hotels. That will take time,
but they are all waiting," he said.
"A promising region for future
tourism development is the southern coast around Sihanoukville. The fine beaches
and untouched islands will be ideal for resort hotels. Malaysian and Thai
investors are already investigating opportunities.
"Our rivers are one of
our greatest resources. Within a year we will be able to offer cruises on the
Tonle Sap River. Longer term we hope to organize cruises on the Mekong River to
the Laos border."
The tourism fair, the largest in the world, included
5,023 participants from 150 countries. Cambodia's stand, measuring 25 square
meters and decorated with traditional silk and kramas, was occupied by the
Ministry's delegation of two, and travel agencies Transair, Bopha Angkor,
Calimexco, Surya Voyages, Naga Tours and Apsara Tours.
Hans Walter said: "There was a great response. People were surprised to see the
country represented. Many people did not know how to get here. They didn't know
how to get to Siem Reap. Some didn't even know where Cambodia
Walter said that more than 30 travel agencies will be selling
Transair's trips in their brochures.
Transair's travel manager, Diana
Rimedio, who also attended the exhibition, was equally impressed. "We only had a
small stand, but many visitors stopped to ask questions. Inevitably they asked
about the Khmer Rouge. But they were also very interested in the culture, the
traditions and the services that are offered. I told them we had everything,"
she said adding that bookings will start for the next high season in
Cambodia attracts backpackers along with well-educated, and
middle-class tourists, who come for a cultural visit, said Rimedio. "Typically,
they come for short visits of three or four days, on a tour of Indochina. We
want to persuade them to stay longer," she said.