The Angkor-Gyeongju World Culture Expo 2006 ended Tuesday with Cambodian officials calling it a success, but some participating vendors and hospitality-industry representatives calling it a costly disappointment.
The 50-day, $6-million festival—a joint venture between Cambodia and South Korea’s Gyeongsangbuk-do Province—came to a close with a ceremony attended by Cabinet Minister Sok An.
According to government data, the expo, which opened to much fanfare Nov 21 with Prime Minister Hun Sen and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun in attendance, attracted 460,000 visitors.
The goal had been to attract at least 300,000 visitors; however, nine out of 10 of the visitors who did turn up were Cambodians and not the deep-pocketed foreign tourists organizers had expected.
Cambodians paid no more than $3 for their entrance tickets while the few foreigners who did visit paid anywhere from $6 to $20 to enter.
Moeung Sonn, managing director of Eurasie Travel, called the expo “a huge loss” for Cambodians, saying that the $2 million Cambodia spent on the event could have been better invested.
Building a road to the millennium-old Preah Vihear temple would have benefited tourism and the country a great deal more, he said.
“When investing in culture, one does not talk about making money,” said Yara Suos, vice chairman of the festival’s Joint Executive Secretariat.
Tourism Secretary of State Thong Khon also defended the expo’s weighty bill, saying that the event “generated economic growth in Siem Reap province such as more hotels and guesthouses being full.”
Others disagreed, including one vendor who rented booths inside the expo grounds at a cost of $3,000.
“I had expected a lot of foreigners, but it did not work well,” said the vendor who wished to remain anonymous.
Thong Khon said that some vendors made as much as $8,000 during the expo.
SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said the expo did provide Cambodians with entertainment other than casinos and karaoke, but did nothing for the economy.
“It was a waste of money,” he said, adding that the National Assembly should have been informed beforehand of the government’s intention to invest in such a costly exercise.