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Man About Town: 03 May 2013

Man About Town: 03 May 2013

A local newspaper, reporting on Tuesday on the installment of Major General Khim Bun Song as the new provincial governor of Siem Reap, quoted “independent political analyst” Lao Mong Hay as saying that the appointment of a career soldier to the post was unusual.

According to the paper, Lao Mong Hay said, “It is a bit strange, a bit surprising because that province is a tourist centre, so the governor should be experienced [in tourism.] So far, at least in Siem Reap itself, there has been no trouble and no security problems.”

This was a somewhat ill-informed comment because neither Lao Mong Hay nor the local newspaper made reference to Khim Bun Song’s ownership of the successful five-star Borei Angkor Resort.

Surely that would give Khim Bun Song some insight into the tourism industry? In fact many tourism operators in Siem Reap welcome his appointment for just that reason – that he has hands on knowledge of tourism in the province.

Tourism operators also see promise in the appointment of the outgoing governor, Sou Phirin, to the role of advisor to the Apsara Authority. It’s perhaps an understatement to say that the authority has had a reshuffle in the upper echelons of its personnel, and it is felt that the practical savvy Sou Phirin gained in his role as governor will bring a new level of realpolitik to the authorities’ ability to react meaningfully to the dramatic changes to the town’s tourism development.

Both the new governor and Sou Phirin will have their work cut out to protect the town and the temples from the ravages of mass tourism, while at the same time preserving the massive income this trade brings.

According to data from Cambodia Airports, in the first quarter of this year the number of arrivals at Siem Reap International Airport surged by a staggering 30.77 per cent.

This influx was detrimentally felt in town, with the infrastructure stretched to the max.  Hotel rooms were in shortage, power cuts were inflicted and there were disturbing traffic jams at the temples.

The huge influx was further exacerbated by a distinct change in the type of tourists arriving in town –  charter groups from China, Taiwan, Korea and Vietnam boosted numbers but decreased the average spend per visitor. This resulted in an invasion of buses into the town, clogging the streets and the temples to the degree that authorities stepped in and limited access of large buses to the temples and parts of the downtown precinct.

This year residents really felt the impact of mass tourism increase, and some tourists themselves griped about overcrowding.

There has been talk by authorities of attempting to limit access to some of the prime temples by raising entrance fees. But the overall feeling in town is that something must be done, and it will be interesting to see what the new governor, together with Apsara, will do – if anything.

Watch this space.

Travel Blackboard reports that investors “are turning their attention to emerging markets in Southeast Asia again, on the back of robust hotel transaction volumes in Asia which hit US$620 million in Q1 2013, up 190 per cent from the same period in 2012, according to Jones Lang LaSalle.”

Tom Oakden, executive vice president of investment sales for Jones Lang LaSalle’s Hotels and  Hospitality Group was quoted as saying, “Rising visitor arrivals, robust trading performance and positive market dynamics have put emerging Southeast Asian markets such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar back into the investment spotlight.”

Travel Blackboard stated that “airlift has been the big game changer for many markets in Southeast Asia,” and that “Cambodia is on the cusp of real economic and tourism growth.”


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