The number of tourists visiting Cambodia jumped by 41 percent in 1999 to an all-time high, due largely to improved security, tourism officials said Tuesday.
More than 262,900 visitors flew into Cambodia’s two main gateways of Siem Reap and Phnom Penh in 1999 compared with 186,333 last year, Secretary of State for Tourism Nuth Nin Doeurn said.
“It’s from the political stability of the government plus the security. It brings tourists back to Cambodia,” he said. “Plus our infrastructure is a little better,” he added, pointing to the development of several new luxury hotels at Siem Reap.
Last year’s results were slightly above than the previous high set in 1996, before factional violence in the capital made international headlines, scaring away potential visitors, Nuth Nin Doeurn said.
The Ministry estimates tourists netted $126 million for Cambodia last year, based on a daily expenditure of $89 per visitor over five and a half days.
“The result [this year] is much higher than we had expected,” Nuth Nin Doeurn said.
Sotho Lulikar of Hanuman Tourism agreed. “We had an amazing year for tourism,” she said. “I found that it’s better than we expected.”
However, Pierre Jungo, country director for Diethelm Travel, was disappointed by the figures. “I’m a little surprised that they are not higher than they are. I thought it would be 310,000,” he said Tuesday.
Jungo based his expectations on Diethelm’s own results this year. “The best we’ve ever had,” he said.
He attributes the lower country figure than he had expected to lingering fears about safety here, which he said can devastate tourism. “It takes some time for people to realize that it is indeed 100-percent safe,” he said.
Other drawbacks are the high cost of visiting Cambodia, compared to more competitive tourist scenes such as Thailand, and the lack of adequate infrastructure, such as good roads connecting the major tourist destinations.
Two major road building projects, connecting Siem Reap with Kampong Thom province, and Phnom Penh with Svay Rieng on the Vietnam border, will greatly assist tourism, Jungo said. But the government “must do what they say they will do,” and make the roads a priority, he added.
However, Nuth Nin Doeurn is confident tourism will rise sharply, with a forecast of 400,000 for this year and as many as 1 million expected in 2003.
He said cooperative relationships with other Asean countries, such as a proposed initiative promoting Buddhist cultural tourism in Laos, Burma, Cambodia and Thailand, will help Cambodia to benefit from increased tourism in the region.
The month-old open skies program, allowing direct flights to Siem Reap, will also give tourism a boost, he said.
Nuth Nin Doeurn said the ministry expects improvements to Siem Reap airport, to be completed in March, will attract airlines running direct flights from Hong Kong, Japan, China and South Korea, he said.
Tourists from the Asia-Pacific region topped the list, making up 58 percent of visitors. Canada and the US came second, with 15 percent, and France third, with 11 percent.
Another 381,427 visitors arrived through land and sea routes, but many of them were one-day visitors and made a negligible contribution to the economy, tourism officials said.
Reuters reported 276,591 people visited the Preah Vihear temple in northern Cambodia from Thailand. The mountain-top temple was accessible to tourists in 1999 only from the Thai side.