Everyone agrees Cambodia’s tourism industry needs some fine tuning if it hopes to maintain the momentum built over the past two years, and customer service is at the top of the list.
Government and provincial officials offered several ideas at a two-day seminar held last week at the Hotel Le Royal.
To make it easier to obtain visas, the government is working on a plan that would allow Cambodia’s 20 embassies and five consulates around the world to be able to issue visas within 48 hours.
Currently, visitors can obtain a visa only when they enter Cambodia. Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs Long Visalo told the tourism conference participants a new sticker system is being developed for those applying for visas from overseas.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is currently testing a new computer system using the sticker visas at Pochentong Airport and at the land border crossings in Banteay Meanchey’s Poipet commune next to Thailand and Svay Rieng’s Bavet commune next to Vietnam.
The new system is also designed to keep a more accurate account of the revenue generated by visas.
“It won’t be as easy to cheat,” Long Visalo said.
Foreign Minister Hor Namhong recently opened Cambodia’s fifth consulate, in Osaka, Japan. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is working with Osaka authorities to establish direct flights from the Japanese city to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. According to Long Visalo, the government will buy advertisements in Japanese media extolling Cambodia.
At the seminar, Long Visalo asked the Ministry of Tourism to change its current policy requiring Thai tourists to leave their vehicles at the Poipet crossing and use Cambodian transportation to continue on to Siem Reap.
“I don’t think they want to leave their cars,” he said. “If we can change that, I think Thai tourists will be happy to come by road.” He suggested the government collect $50 from each tourist car.
Suy San, Siem Reap province second deputy governor, agreed that the road from Poipet to Siem Reap was very important to tourism. But he disagreed with Long Visalo’s plan.
“I think if Thais use their own transportation, Cambodian taxi drivers will lose their jobs,” he said. “We still need to consider what is good for us. And if they can come here direct, we should be able to go there direct, too.”
Hong Sinara, deputy director of the road and bridge department for the Ministry of Public Works, said road work on Route 6 from Poipet to Siem Reap was about 80 percent complete. A road project between Banlung town in Ratanakkiri and O’Pongmeann commune in Stung Treng province was 90 percent complete, he said.
Long Visalo said border police at the Bavet crossing must stop forcing foreign tourists to pay for unnecessary medical paperwork, and that police at Battambang airport must stop asking tourists to buy visas for domestic flights.
“I faced this case myself. They forced me to buy one,” he said.
Sihanoukville deputy governor Sboung Sarath criticized the Ariston Corp for failing to keep its promise to develop land it owns next to Ocheateal Beach.
He said Sihanoukville wants to develop a master plan to promote tourism, and that if Ariston isn’t going to develop the land, they should cancel the deal.
Company officials rejected the criticisms, saying work has already begun on the project.
Ministry of Tourism Secretary of State Thong Khon, who has been appointed to lead a commission to resolve the Ariston case, said he has asked the company to move some fencing that is blocking some beachfront.
Minister of Tourism Veng Sereyvurth said the infrastructure in Sihanoukville needed to be in place by 2003.
Sboung Sarath also said the government needed to crack down on garment factories and other industries before ocean pollution became a serious problem.