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Tourism: the government’s top priority

Tourism: the government’s top priority

CAMBODIA is marketing itself as a diverse travel hotspot, and as far as tourism is concerned, the Kingdom has a lot going for it and a lot going on.

Tourism figures for 2010 show a marked increase, different sectors are cooperating to modernise for a target tourist population and industry insiders are aggressively preparing to host the ASEAN travel forum in January.

“Where do we see the market?” Mohan Gunti, tourism advisor to the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents (CATA), asked. “We see there is opportunity. The government has [made tourism] the number one sector in terms of priority.”

According to the Ministry of Tourism’s August 2010 report, 1,630,000 people visited Cambodia in the first eight months of the year – up from 2009’s 1,422,003 total visitors for the same period.

“Total numbers of visitors increased 14 percent from 2009,” Ang Kim Eang, CATA president, said. However, he added that a drop in “long-haul” tourists – international tourists who stay for a week to 10 days and spend money on expensive hotels – had meant a decrease in revenue for those involved in the high-end travel market.  

“Tourism in Cambodia is increasing, but people are spending less on luxury items and hotels,” Luu Meng, president of the Cambodia Hotel Association, said.

Ministry figures show the majority of visitors are coming to Cambodia by bus from Vietnam and via quick flights from Korea and China – the top three placeholders in ministry tourism statistics.

Gunti said Cambodia’s cheap accessibility from Vietnam meant the recession had little effect on travellers coming from there – whereas cash-conscious travel groups from the US and Europe had been recently changing plans.   

“The US and Europe need sufficient time planning. Within Cambodia, they still don’t have direct access.”

He pointed to Cambodia’s status as a backpacker destination, noting that “if there are problems in neighboring countries, everyone is affected. If a tourism group can’t make it out, the entire trip is cancelled.”
Luu Meng said cooperation was essential for the industry’s future.  

“We need to work together in the luxury sector, create extra flights from neighbouring countries and better international access to Cambodia,” he said.

He noted that customers paying upwards of $8,000 for a flight ticket would be more likely to pay US$50-$100 a night for a hotel.

Cambodia has responded and is adapting itself for growth, according to Gunti, who said agencies, hotels, the government and every facet of Cambodia’s tourism industry were working together to attract high-end international travellers.

About “80-90 percent” of Cambodian travel agencies now have their own web sites, Gunti said, adding that advertising Cambodia’s eco-tourism sites would give more visitors a reason to visit the Kingdom.

“We are not only a heritage site,” Gunti said, referring to Angkor Wat. “Visitors here can explore the finest of the finest virgin beaches and the finest of the finest virgin rainforests. We are slowly trying to diversify.”

Ang Kim Eang said Cambodians had started to recognise destinations other than Angkor Wat, spurring an increase in domestic travel.

“Domestic travel is increasing a lot,” said the CATA president, who attributed the rise to improved infrastructure and more private vehicles, which allowed people to go to other areas of the country such as the north-east, to Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri provinces.

Perhaps the biggest indicator of Cambodia’s focus on the tourism industry is its hosting of the ASEAN tourist forum this January. It has been 10 years since the country last hosted the show, an annual event attended by all ASEAN countries and hosted on a rotating basis.

Demand for travel show booths is high, according to Ang Kim Eang and Gunti, and the show already had 468 booths filled when “very few” such events could reach the normal 300 booths.

Gunti said more than  250 media personnel were attending the event, a sure sign of Cambodian visibility and that 2011 was a year full of big possibilities for the Kingdom.

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