Cambodia’s Economy Sliding in Wake of Terrorist Attacks

Although official figures were still being tabulated, workers in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap said Thursday they already are feeling the pinch as the world economy continues its slowdown in the wake of US-led air­strikes in Af­ghanistan.

In the garment sector, which is Cambodia’s largest industry, there already appears to be a 9 percent surplus from overproduction, Min­istry of Commerce Secretary of State Khek Ravy said. Demand is already shrinking in the US, which is Cambodia’s biggest garment customer, Khek Ravy said.

The surplus figure, though un­official, marks a huge turnaround from the first six months of 2001, when demand for garments outpaced supply by 22 percent, Khek Ravy said.

Um Banna, who lives in Phnom Penh, can attest to the garment industry slowdown. For weeks she has been searching in vain for a job at a factory.

“Representatives keep saying, ‘Next time,’” she said. “Some­times they say tomorrow or the next day. I am hopeless.”

Meanwhile, Phnom Penh is feel­ing a tourist crunch, a municipal official said. Up to 25,000 tourists usually fly into the capital monthly, but it appears there was about a 25 percent drop in visitors in September, the official said.

The news from Siem Reap, Cam­bodia’s most popular and vital tourist hub, was just as bleak. Although officials were still calculating the monthly tourist reports, tourism for the month of Sept­ember appears to have dropped by 30 percent in the province, a Ministry of Tourism official said.

In an average month, 10,000 tourists take direct flights to the province, touring the temples of Angkor Wat and the province’s other attractions. Hotels in Siem Reap were reporting steep drop-offs in customers. Some were beginning to lay off staff.

The Angkor Grand Hotel, which usually has as many as 60 rooms filled, had only seven bookings Tuesday. There have been more than 500 cancellations since the Sept 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the hotel’s management reported.

At the City Angkor Hotel, the manager said 50 percent of the reservations have been canceled since the terrorist attacks. The hotel already has laid off some employees for two days as business slumps.

“We hope the guests will come back to normal, but we are not sure, waiting for America’s next attack. We do not know what will happen next,” the manager said.

Such news is unsettling to  hotel employees.

“If tourism continues to go down, I will be suspended from my job in the very near future,” said Chea Sothea, a worker at the Angkor Century Hotel in Siem Reap.

Van Lida, another Siem Reap hotel worker, was not so lucky. She already has been laid off, losing her $140 per month salary—in a country where the per capita income is around $280 per year.

“I have applied to other hotels, but I was told it is not time to recruit workers. It is time to reduce workers because they cannot allocate salaries for them,” she said.

The worst part of the slump is the uncertainty, workers said.

“I am very worried,” Chea Sothea said. “I don’t know when I will be suspended. Today, I tried to apply to other hotels and NGOs, but I got no replies.”

The jobless have few options, Chea Sothea said. “If I am suspended, I will be a moto taxi driver. But moto taxi drivers have no customers, either,” he said.

The experience has left both hotel employees confused and an­gry. “I condemn the terrorists’ attacks and ask for a trial of the terrorist leaders who order the attacks,” Chea Sothea said. “They do not only kill people in the US, but in Cambodia and other countries as well.”

 

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