siem reap – Hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, transportation companies and souvenir shops are going up by the day in Siem Reap as the tourism industry around Angkor Wat races to meet a growing demand for services.
Two five-star hotels, at least 20 three- or four-star hotels and 30 guesthouses are under construction and will open in the next few years, tourism officials said.
They had better hurry—the area currently has only half the guest rooms it needs to accommodate the estimated 600,000 tourists who will visit Angkor in 2003, said Kousoum Saroeun, director-general of the Ministry of Tourism.
As of early this year, Siem Reap town’s hotels and guesthouses had a combined 3,000 rooms—not enough for the 480,000 tourists projected for 2002, Kousoum Saroeun said.
The problem will intensify next year. To house 600,000 tourists a year, a total of 6,000 guest rooms will be needed, he said.
“This means that this year we must build 3,000 hotel and guesthouse rooms,” Kousoum Saroeun said. But in the last three years the number of guest rooms has only increased by an average 600 per year.
Tourism continues to grow rapidly in Cambodia, with the famous temples of Angkor the main attraction.
The country’s tourism industry—considered its best hope for short-term economic growth—is projected to achieve yearly increases of 25 percent to 30 percent in coming years, said Thong Khon, a secretary of state for the Ministry of Tourism.
In the first four months of this year, 194,624 visitors came to Siem Reap—a 35 percent increase compared to the same period last year, said Koy Song, director of the provincial tourism office. More tourists came in those four months alone than over the entire year 2000.
Such an onslaught of eager visitors has overwhelmed Siem Reap, which, for all its moneymaking potential, still has the feel of a sleepy provincial town.
“The hotel industry and other [tourist] services need to rise to meet the level of demand,” Thong Khon said
In addition to the dearth of rooms, there is a shortage of skilled hotel workers. “Just because we have rooms does not necessarily mean we have guests,” said Kham Phally, owner of the mid-range, 180-room Angkor Hotel.
“A good hotel operation needs good service. I teach my staff to always smile and to solve customers’ problems quickly.”
Siem Reap’s 47 hotels currently employ about 1,800 workers, who make an average of $60 a month, said Sam Heang, president of the newly formed national hotel association, which aims to coordinate tourism strategies and promote Cambodian hotels as a group.
Officials are also planning some new tricks to bring in tourists. At the end of this year the ministries of Tourism and Culture, the Apsara Authority and the Grand Hotel d’Angkor will stage a gala benefit concert featuring Spanish opera star Jose Carreras, one of the “Three Tenors” whose albums have sold millions of copies, according to Thong Khon.
Tickets to the high-profile event—1,000 have already been sold—cost $1,500. Some $250,000 of the profits expected to be generated by the concert will go to the Cambodian Red Cross as well as organizations that aid wildlife and land mine victims.
Prime Minister Hun Sen and Cambodian Red Cross President Bun Rany will attend the Dec 6 concert.