SIEM REAP TOWN "Oooh, business is so bad," moaned one souvenir
vendor in the downtown market. Her colleagues, their stalls similarly empty
of tourists, nodded and scowled in agreement.
"Business is no good since last year, before July," she said.
Two years ago, at this time, she said she grossed $20-30 per day. But now,
she said she had sold just $13 worth of goods in the past three days.
The vendors' plight is echoed in the tourism sector
nationwide. The industry, depressed since the July 1997 coup, now has to
contend with last month's heavy news coverage of violent demonstrator-police
clashes in Phnom Penh and a fatal B-40 rocket attack in Siem Reap.
Heavily tourist-dependent Siem Reap province may be most badly hurt. The
1,395 people buying tickets to the Angkor temple complex in Sept 1998 while
more than last year's paltry 163 were still barely over half of the1996
figure of 2,119, according to provincial tourism department figures.
"Everyone is suffering hotels, restaurants, moto drivers," governor
Toan Chay admitted.
Diethem Travel managing director Jacques Guichandut
said his agency was not at the rock-bottom level of last July, but has had
a number of tour groups cancel since the beginning of last month.
"After the riots in Phnom Penh we had cancellations, and after the
rocket in Siem Reap, we had a few," he said. "We had received
some concerns about safety in Siem Reap, but not directly related [to the
Siem Reap residents say they have noticed a decline.
Tourism department staff said a Sept 27 World Tourism Day celebration at
Banteay Srei Temple three days after the rocket attack drew only about 100
"Especially last month and this month, it's very bad," said Thim
Sereyvuth, a tour guide trainer in the provincial tourism department. "The
explosion last month, on CNN, they saw around the world." He said even
the tourists who are coming tend to stay only one night, when in the past
they stayed three or four days.
A Tourism Ministry official said no new campaign
is in the works to counteract the bad publicity.
"We are planning just as before," said the Ministry's marketing
and promotions director, Pak Sokhum. "We hope the high season will
[see an] increase, even if it's not as good as before. We hope to improve
step by step."
On a recent flight from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, two groups of tourists
had different attitudes towards last month's events.
A British man from Hong Kong said he had been following the news but had
come anyway with some trepidation.
"We had booked our tickets before it all started," he and his
wife said. "I was a bit unsure, but there hadn't been any news recently,
and they have all started talking, so we hoped it would be okay," he
An Italian family from Spain had no idea there had been any problems.
"What? We didn't know anything about that," said the father.