As SARS Threat Lessens, Tourism Surges

Tourists are flocking back to Cambodia after the tourism in­dustry slumped earlier in 2003 due to the threat of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

Though the Ministry of Tour­ism estimates the number of visitors dropped 10 percent in 2003 compared to 2002, officials are again hoping that 1 million foreign visitors will arrive this year—a prediction also made by officials one year ago.

Data is not available for De­cember, but Cambodia hosted 620,000 international arrivals between January and November, down 12 percent from the same period in 2002, Ministry of Tour­ism Secretary of State Thong Khon said, quoting a ministry re­port. “The situation has improved much after we had a big faint in the wake of SARS,” he said.

In 2002, Cambodia had 780,000 international arrivals, generating $560 million in revenue.

SARS was first identified in Chi­na in February. By June, the disease had in­fected more than 8,000 people worldwide, killing more than 800. No SARS cases were found in Cambodia.

In April, at the height of the SARS scare, tourism was down 40 percent, Thong Khon said, but it stayed at about 10 percent lower than 2002. As the dry season travel continues, business has shown strong signs of recovery with foreign visitors up 45 percent in November from October.

Some regions of the country saw more foreigners in 2003 than the year before. Kompong Thom province, home to the pre-Angkor ruins of Sambor Prey Kuk, saw a 21 percent spike in foreign ar­rivals, a total of 3,923 people, provincial Tourism Director Phay Dararith said. Visits to the pro­vince by Cambodians dropped, according to a tourism report.

Cambodian travelers are by­passing sites in Kompong Thom and heading to Siem Reap, said Phay Dararith. This is due to Na­tional Route 6 renovations which have cut travel time between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

In general, Cambodians and foreigners ventured further afield, said Thong Khon, thanks to this year’s favorably cooler weather and the improvement of national roads. In addition to Angkor Wat, foreign tourists visited fishing villages on the Tonle Sap lake and ruins in provinces beside Siem Reap, he said.

“This year, more Cambodian people have visited the far away areas,” Thong Khon said.

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