Despite the Minister of Tourism's upbeat projections for the country's tourism
industry, travel agents in Hong Kong say Cambodia still conjures up images of
horror and war for most people.
"Package Tour of Killing Fields" and
"Horror Prison" reads an advertisement in a leading daily Hong Kong newspaper. A
trip to Angkor Wat is billed as an optional extra but costs more.
Donaldson, manager of promotions and public relations at Dragonair, an airline
which operates two direct flights a week to Phnom Penh, says visitors fear they
will be shot at in Cambodia.
"People are terrified of going there. They
have no idea of what else to expect," says Donaldson, adding that Dragonair,
which uses A320 airbuses, has only had a quarter of its seats booked since the
service started on Aug 3 last year.
Hong Kong travel agent William Lau,
who sells a Cambodia package trip through Marvel Tours, has never been to
Cambodia does not know any Cambodians, and believes he is unable to paint a more
positive picture of Cambodia for travelers.
But, Peter Chan, country
manager of Dragonair, believes the situation will improve. All flights over
Easter are full and they have reduced the cost of a return ticket from $701 to
$450, to compete with Cambodia International Airlines' fare of $403.
"People aren't thinking so much now about Khmer Rouge and security," he
claims. "These days they're thinking more about Angkor Wat."
Nevertheless, discouraging articles continue to appear in Hong Kong
newspapers. The Eastern Express, Hong Kong's newest English-language newspaper,
carried a front page story on Phnom Penh in its feature section last week. A
half-page photograph shows a dark street with soldiers armed with assault rifles
arresting a frightened motorcyclist.
"Cambodia is losing the battle
against crime and corruption," the story reads, after giving details about car
thefts with gunmen bursting into compounds demanding car keys. The story tells
of travelers on the Mekong river being robbed by pirates, and French tourists
being attacked by armed bandits after being dragged from their car. The new
government, the story claims, "is rotten to the core".
But the country's
bad image could soon change if Tan Mau Ieng succeeds in his ambition to promote
his homeland. Tan, one of the few Cambodians living in Hong Kong, runs a travel
agency. He hopes more travelers will put Cambodia on their itinerary if he can
become the main Cambodian Tourist Office and Consulate. "I can do propaganda for
the country and encourage tourists."
He has already approached the Vice
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Uch Kiman, with his proposal. He also is liaising
with the country's new airline, Royal Air Cambodge, in a plan to become their
official representative in Hong Kong.
His agency, located in Prat
Avenue, close to other travel agencies in busy Nathan Road in Kowloon, is
currently known as Vietnam Travel Development Company. With Indochina as its
focus, it will shortly be renamed. Tan took it over last year at a cost of HK$1
million, and already has clients such as Princess Bopha Devy, who passes through
Hong Kong en route to Beijing to visit her father, King Sihanouk.
Kongers think that it's still war in Cambodia," admits Tan, who left Cambodia
for France in 1970. He returned to Asia a year ago. "But Chinese businesses here
are interested in Cambodia," he says, "particularly since China has such a good
relationship with the King," says Tan who speaks fluent Cantonese, Mandarin,
French, Khmer, English and Chow Tchou, a dialect.