The number of visitors arriving by cruise ship in Sihanoukville dropped steeply in the first six months of the year compared to the same period last year, a Tourism Ministry official said.
“The number of visitors in the first six months of 2011 was 8,910 on 18 cruise ships, a 31 percent decrease from the same period last year,” said Kong Sopheareak, director of statistics in the Tourism Ministry’s information department.
A lack of attractions in Sihanoukville and high visa fees were keeping ships and their passengers away from the coastal town, said Ho Vandy, co-chair of the Government-Private Sector working group on tourism. Regular flight services to and from Sihanoukville would help the situation, he said.
“If tourists use the bus, they may spend four or five hours reaching Phnom Penh, and over 10 hours to see Angkor Wat,” Mr Vandy said, pointing out that long road trips deter passengers from spending more time in Cambodia.
In a bid to encourage ship passengers to Sihanoukville, port docking fees were reduced to $4,000 dollars per ship for a five-day visit, about five times less than the previous fee, said Lou Kimchhun, director general of Sihanoukville Autonomous Port.
Mr Vandy said that tourist visa fees were another impediment to growing the cruise liner trade since ship passengers spend only a few hours in Cambodia, but pay the same fee as regular tourists who can stay for a month.
“We’d like to see a special discount, around 50 percent, for tourists who come by cruise ship,” Mr Vandy said.
According to Ang Seang Eang, director of Angkor TK Travel Agency, cruise ship companies Silver Sea, P&O, Regent Seven Seas, Oceania and Princess currently visit Cambodia.
More companies may enter the market in 2012, Mr Eang said.
“The cruise ships bring a lot of work to local people,” Mr Eang said. “It’s very good each time the cruise comes in-it helps local people earn money from guests.”
(Report By Sok Sidon and Faine Greenwood)