With Cambodia facing a possible decline in tourism in 2009, the government needs to do more to mitigate any effects on tourism from the global financial crisis or the political instability in Thailand, several tourism experts said this week.
Some hotels and tour companies in Cambodia—particularly Siem Reap—say they have lowered expectations for 2009 already.
“Tourism is being affected; it will become worse,” said Ho Vandy, co-chairman of the Public-Private Sector Forum working group on tourism. “If we don’t do any prevention it will become worse and worse.”
He said he is scheduling a meeting with the government about the slowdown and has a list of ideas to present to Prime Minister Hun Sen at the Public-Private Sector Forum next week.
Ho Vandy, who is also president of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents, said Cambodia needs to spend more money on marketing, allow more carriers to fly from Bangkok to Siem Reap and lower prices on a host of tourism-related items such as visas and Angkor Park entry tickets.
The government could encourage lower hotel and airline prices by reducing operating costs and taxes, he said.
The reopening of the Sihanoukville airport at the end of this year as scheduled should also help, he said.
He said he didn’t know how difficult it would be to convince the government to make the changes. But he said with so many businesses and individuals depending on tourism—from hotels and restaurants, to travel companies and tuk-tuk drivers—something must be done.
“If there’s no movement, how can you survive?” he asked.
Luu Meng, president of the Cambodia Hotel Association, said that there has been so little marketing of Cambodia that proper advertising could make a significant difference next year in attracting tourists.
“There’s a lot of room for growth,” he said, adding that the government needs to make more use of its new “Kingdom of Wonder” marketing scheme. But he said that tour agencies also must start selling Cambodia better.
“When they sell Cambodia they don’t really sell Cambodia, they sell Vietnam with the final destination being Angkor Wat,” he said.
Marketing needs to capitalize on the growing tourism infrastructure and other destinations being developed in Cambodia, he said.
Cambodia should also work on setting up package tours that include Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong rather than Thailand, which some tourists are currently avoiding, he said.
So far the government is predicting slow growth for 2008 and 2009, Tourism Ministry Secretary of State So Mara said Thursday.
The government had projected 20 percent growth in tourism earlier in the year but So Mara said that figure has been lowered to 10 percent.
“We would say slower growth [in 2009],” he said, adding that Cambodia is not alone in experiencing a slowdown in tourism.
Tourism growth is declining worldwide after years of large expansion, according to the UN World Tourism Organization’s barometer released this week. It is in the Asia and Pacific region where tourism is expected to be hit hardest, according to the UNWTO, with growth expected to decline through the wet season and possibly reach negative numbers in August.
So Mara said that Cambodia, unlike other countries, isn’t suffering from political instability and is planning on expanding its new marketing campaign to India, the Middle East, Russia and China, where the financial crisis has had less of an effect.
He said the government welcomed the ideas from the private sector and would consider them. But he added that some of the recommendations, such as changes re-garding visas and airports, fall outside his ministry’s authority.
“We can raise ideas, but it’s up to other ministries,” he said.
At Asia VIPA Travel & Tours in Siem Reap, managing director Chhin Vivath said he so far doesn’t have any bookings for January and expects 50 percent reductions in clients in December compared to the year before.