Cambodia Sees Tourism Opportunities in Wake of Tsunami

With the tsunami destroying tourism in Thailand’s once-world re­nowned beach resorts, a senior Mi­nistry of Tourism official re­vealed on Friday new business initiatives to attract more foreign tourists to Cambodia.

Siem Reap’s hotel association also reported Friday increased hotel bookings in the wake of the Dec 26 earthquake and tsunamis.

Hotels in Siem Reap town are re­port­ing at least 80 percent occu­pan­cy, said Sam Heang, President of the Siem Reap Hotel Asso­cia­tion. “I feel it is a good time now in Siem Reap,” he said.

Several airline companies are also seeking entry to Cambodian air­ports and Prime Minister Hun Sen has given the “green light” for negotiations to attract them, said Tourism Secretary of State Thong Khon.

Negotiations will focus on private airport operator Societe Con­cessionaire de l’Aeroport reducing overflight fees for planes using Cambodian air space and lowering passenger tax and landing fees that have made flying into Cam­bodia more expensive than other coun­tries, Thong Khon said.

An average of 4 million tourists visited Phuket each year, accounting for 40 percent of all tourists visiting Thailand, said Thong Khon, add­ing that attracting just 15 percent of that market would be a huge wind­fall for Cambodia.

“Low costs will increase landing activity and a lot of tourists will come and spend money in Cam­bo­dia,” he said.

The government also sees po­tential in increased numbers of cruise ships visiting Cambodian ports, he added.

Om Pharin, president of the Cam­bodian Association of Travel Agents, agreed that lowering airport taxes would boost tour­ism, and would particularly appeal to airline companies, which might see the country as a more inviting location to do business.

Om Pharin also questioned why foreign passengers should pay a $25 departure tax—the highest in Asia—when services in Cam­bo­di­an airports, particularly in Siem Reap, were extremely poor.

“The airport tax does not match the airport service…. Airports do not provide enough service to charge a $25 tax fee,” he said.

Khek Norinda, communications and marketing manager for SCA, said Friday he could not comment on the government’s plan to re­duce airport costs as his company had not been informed.

In 2004, some 930,000 foreign visitors arrived in Cambodia, a 30 percent increase over 2003.


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