The Phnom Penh government will soon slash exorbitant entrance fees to the Angkor
temple complexes and end the lucrative monopoly of the heavily criticized Angkor
Tourism, a government tourist agency controlled by the General Directorate of Tourism
Prime Minister Hun Sen, hounded by complaints from irate tourists and U.N. officials,
told Siem Reap Governor Neou Sam to oversee a price cut from the current U.S. $100.
The premier, addressing a meeting of provincial and central officials on investment
problems in Cambodia last month, also said that the Angkor goldmine should be opened
up to other local and foreign tour agencies.
The Phnom Penh government had set up a special committee-consisting of officials
of the Finance Ministry and the GDT-to review tourist fees and set a more reasonable
price for overseas visitors, said National Tourism Chief Cheam Yeap.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Prince Norodom Chakrapong presided over a meeting
in Siem Reap last week of the finance and culture ministers, Angkor Tourism, GDT,
Phnom Penh Tourism, two Khmer tour agencies-Apsara Tours and Cambodia Service-and
aThai company, East-West Group.
Chakrapong called for a radical cut in entrance fees to the temples, with visitors
charged by the temple rather than a flat figure for services and access to the whole
600-kilometer square area of crumbling sandstone ruins.
The tour companies must now put their proposals to the government.
"Cambodia does not want to be accused of taking [excessive] money for tourism,"
Chakrapong reportedly told the meeting.
Details were not immediately available on prices, but the new tariffs proposed by
Chakrapong are expected to be well below the flat rate proposed by Cheam Yeap, who
has suggested a fee of between 65 dollars and 70 dollars, covering temple entrance,
driver, fuel, guide and meal.
What's certain is that Angkor Tourism's monopoly will be buried.
"I'm sure it will be lowered-but I'm not sure by how much," Cheam Yeap
said. "In the past in Siem Reap there was only Angkor Tourism, but in the future
there will be many companies handling tourism."
To date individual day-trippers have had to pay U.S. $100 against U.S. $90 for people
going through an agent, though growing numbers of foreigners have been avoiding these
charges by making their own way to and from Siem Reap by land and river routes.
Taxi drivers, based at Siem Reap airport, have also in recent weeks offered to take
tourists around the temples for U.S. $25.
But tour companies will now be allowed to set their own prices, hire their own guides
and work out hotel rates independently from the provincial body.
"By having an opportunity to operate our own tours we'll be able to provide
the public with better quality tours and better prices, which in the long term is
going to increase tourist revenue for Cambodia," said East-West Executive Vice
President Jim Heston, whose firm has an office in Phnom Penh.
The $100 fee was said to go towards a temple restoration fund, but visitors to Angkor
have never received satisfactory answers to questions about where their money was
going, with most temple renovation sponsored by overseas governments such as India,
Japan, France, and Poland.
In recent months Angkor Tourism officials had often insisted that tourist arriving
on package tours stay in Angkor Tourism's own hotel, rather than the colonial era
Grand Hotel, which is run by a French company.
New hotels have already begun springing up in Siem Reap-a handful of kilometers from
the 12th century showpiece of Angkor Wat-but with lower prices, tourist facilities
and arrivals are expected to mushroom.
Cheam Yeap said the provincial capital had a current capacity of 102 beds and added
that the area welcomed 34,000 tourists in the first six months of the year.
This astonishing figure, which excludes visits by members of the U.N. force, compares
to about 3,500 for the whole of 1990.
The tourist chief said last year that if all goes according to plan Siem Reap will
be able to offer 2,000 hotel beds and handle 50,000 to 100,000 visitors by 1996.
Plans are also afoot to build a new airport 50 kilometers west of the town.