Despite Focus on Tourism, Cambodia Still Struggles to Compete

The World Economic Forum’s “Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2015” provided a reality check for Cambodia as it ranked 105 out of 144 countries overall, despite the government placing tourism at the center of its plans to diversify the country’s economy.

Scoring countries for their potential to bring economic and social benefits through sustainable travel and tourism, Cambodia’s low score was not surprising.

Last year, Cambodia placed near the bottom of the region in the Forum’s broader “Global Competitiveness Report,” in which it came in 88 out of 144 countries taking into account a wide range of industries.

Cambodia’s performance in the tourism report was a mixed bag—on a number of indexes, it comes close to last, such as its 112 ranking when it comes to health and hygiene. However, for prioritization of travel and tourism, Cambodia ranked 37.

This week, Interior Minister Sar Kheng again signaled the government’s determination to capitalize on the tourism industry with the announcement of an initiative to better protect foreigners, particularly in key tourist areas.

Reflecting the government’s will to improve the sector are relatively high rankings for international openness, 47 and price competitiveness, 50.

But the report suggests that the country requires extensive rebuilding and development of its tourism industry. Cambodia ranked 102 in ICT readiness, 103 in air transport infrastructure, 116 in ground and port infrastructure and 108 in tourist service infrastructure.

On safety and security, Cambodia ranked 82—significantly ahead of neighbors Burma at 125, and Thailand, which after of a year of political unrest placed 132.

Tith Chantha, director-general of the Ministry of Tourism, said Friday that the government was making strides and would keep its sights focused on areas requiring improvement.

“This is just criticism, which is their business. But in fact, our country is not really like that. We welcome investors very much…and have many favorable mechanisms and procedures” he said.

“We need to improve and correct our actions when problems and errors occur in the process of the development, which we need to implement step by step,” he added.

For the first time in the Travel & Tourism report, Spain beat out traditional competitors France, Germany, the U.K. and Italy as the No. 1 tourism destination in the world, with the U.S., Canada and Japan also among the world’s top 10. China edged closer to the top with a 17th-place ranking.

The top performers in Asia-Pacific were more mature economies, such as Australia and Japan, which were ranked 7 and 9 respectively, while Singapore came in at 11, Hong Kong at 13 and New Zealand at 16.

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