Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Tourist business booms in Siem Reap - Angkor Wat area

Tourist business booms in Siem Reap - Angkor Wat area

Tourist business booms in Siem Reap - Angkor Wat area

More than 115,000 tourists visited Siem Reap last year according to the

province's tourism department - a record high which has provided a boom for

businesses but has tested the city's ability to cope with high levels of

visitors.

Most of the tourists flew in: 76,000, up from 54,000 in 1998,

according to figures released by the tourism office. And another 40,000 made

their way there by land or boat.

But while the numbers flying in from

Phnom Penh were almost static at about 45,000 each year there was a massive

increase in the number of people flying direct from Bangkok: 28,525 in 1999, up

from 10,243 in 1998.

And the trend looks to continue, with other

airlines keen to take advantage of Cambodia's "open skies"

policy.

Bangkok Airways and Angel Airways were the first foreign carriers

to take advantage of the relaxed regulations while Vietnam Airlines is the

latest. It began flying to Siem Reap in mid-February five times a week and as

the Post went to press there were rumors of an imminent announcement by

Singapore Airlines of a new Siem Reap service.

But while getting to Siem

Reap is being made much easier, the rapid increase in the numbers of tourists is

stretching resources to the breaking point.

Tea Franna, Siem Reap Tourist

Development Advisor and manager of the local Diethelm Travel branch, told the

Post that Siem Reap's facilities are now frequently overwhelmed by

tourists.

"The number of tourists have increased so much that we have

problems getting tour guides, drivers and even a spare bed in a hotel," he

said.

Meanwhile tourist companies are busily lining up to fill the gaps

in Siem Reap's tourism infrastructure. The Sofitel Royal Angkor will open this

year, and there are also rumors that the famed Club Med chain is planning to set

up in Siem Reap in the near future.

Siem Reap is having to learn

extremely quickly about how to deal with tourists lured to the province's

Angkorean temples.

In the past ten years hotel accommodation has gone

from effectively nothing to rooms ranging from $2 to $1,900 a night. At the same

time there has been pressure to sort out critical infrastructure problems such

as reliable electricity supply, which has improved in recent years. The manager

of the Chao Say Guesthouse said that as late as 1995 Siem Reap was limited to

three hours electricity each morning and evening.

Meanwhile businesses

are springing up and prospering in spite of the problems.

More

restaurants and bars, including the first "24 hour" establishment, have now

opened offering a range of cuisine from Indian to Pizza.

Vannin, who runs

Smiley's Guest House, is just one of many of Siem Reap's hoteliers who is

reaping the benefits of the boom.

"Our first house had twelve rooms," she

said. "Seven months ago we moved to another building with forty rooms and we're

full every night."

According to the manager of the Chao Say Guest House,

not a long time ago people came only to see the temples, but now they have more

opportunities and it is not unusual that visitors stay five or six days, some

even stay a month.

The one thing that can possibly slow down Siem Reap's

tourism explosion is the horrific state of the roads connecting the town to both

Thailand and the rest of Cambodia.

However, Siem Reap's Provincial

Governor, Chap Nhalyvoud, said help is on the way.

"Siem Reap and

especially Angkor Wat represents Cambodia and its people," he said. "The roads

will be improved as soon as possible."

Nyalyvoud added that the

government of Siem Reap has also started its sixth official training course for

locals interested in becoming tour guides in the area, with classes being taught

in Japanese, French, English, German, Chinese and Spanish.

More ambitious

plans for the future include banning vehicular traffic from the center of Siem

Reap town in favor of the creation of a green "pedestrian only"

zone.

Under the plan, tourists will transfer from buses running between

the temples on the perimeter of Siem Reap town to special shuttle buses that

will travel to various hotels and guest houses in the area.

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