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.