Tourist arrivals to Cambodia increased by a disappointing 5.5 percent in 2008, the first time the annual growth in visitor numbers has fallen below 18 percent since the SARS outbreak in 2003, Tourism Minister Thong Khon said Tuesday.
Total tourist arrivals in 2008 were 2.12 million, up from just over 2 million in 2007, the minister said by telephone.
Arrivals were up 10 to 11 percent during the first half of 2008, but the number fell dramatically to 3 percent mid-year when political turmoil broke out in Thailand and the global financial crisis hit, Thong Khon said.
The tourism outlook for 2009 looks to be similar, with Thong Kong projecting another year of 5 to 7 percent growth.
Still, Cambodia has fared better than most members of Asean, where tourism increased 7 percent overall, Thong Khon said.
For example, Vietnam only saw a 0.6 percent increase in tourists in 2008, Thong Khon said, while Singapore felt a decrease of 1.6 percent.
Although South Korea continues to send the most visitors to Cambodia, that number fell 19 percent in 2008 to 266,370, down from 329,909 in 2007, according to Ministry of Tourism statistics department Director Kong Sopheareak.
But a bright note for the tourism sector came in the steep rise in visitors from Vietnam. Vietnamese arrivals increased 75 percent over all 2008, a result of improvements to Cambodian roads and the recent waiver of bilateral visa fees, Kong Sopheareak said by telephone Tuesday. Vietnamese visitors to Cambodia in 2008 hit 220,260, up from 125,442 in 2007, he said.
In December, the first month visa fees were waived for Vietnamese and Cambodian visitors to each other’s countries, Vietnamese visitors to Cambodia hit 25,322, up from 11,298 in December 2007, Kong Sopheareak said. The December spike was also a 28 percent increase from the previous month’s 18,342 visitors, he said.
Though Cambodia no longer gains fees for $20 tourism visas and $25 business visas from Vietnamese visitors, Kong Sopheareak said the trade-off is worthwhile because visitors spend an average of $100 a day in Cambodia.
Mom Yoy, deputy police chief of Bavet International Border Checkpoint, said Tuesday by telephone that he’s seen a sharp increase in both Cambodians and Vietnamese crossing the border since visa fees were waived Dec 4.
About 700 to 800 Vietnamese now cross daily into Cambodia, compared to the pre-December number of 500 to 600, he said, and about 300 Cambodians now cross daily into Vietnam, up from 200 pre-December.
Thai visitors to Cambodia numbered 107,733 in all of 2008, a mere 6 percent increase over the previous year, Kong Sopheareak said. The final six months of 2008 felt a particular hit from first the border dispute and then Thailand’s political crisis.
After Korea and Vietnam, Japan sends the most visitors to Cambodia, followed by the US, China and Thailand.
(Additional reporting by Rann Reuy and Tim Sturrock)
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