Tourism Minister Veng Sereyvuth said Tuesday he would soon officially request the government to change its one international-airport policy and allow more direct international flights to Siem Reap from Asian cities.
He said that the government should open up the Siem Reap airport initially to receive direct flights from Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam and add flights later from Asian countries such as Japan and Korea.
The minister has discussed the matter with Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranarridh and both favor his idea, he said, before leaving for Hong Kong where he will promote Cambodia as a travel destination. Veng Sereyvuth said he hopes the Council of Ministers will approve the policy change and let flights begin as early as January.
“This will not be taken well by the travel agents and hotel managers in Phnom Penh,” he admitted. “But we have to establish the tourism market in Siem Reap now. The revenue will spin off from Siem Reap and benefit the entire country.”
His remarks come less than a week after Prince Ranariddh announced he had urged Hun Sen to allow more direct flights to Siem Reap. The prince said at that time Phnom Penh alone could not attract more tourists and opening Siem Reap would help boost tourism.
So Mara, director-general of the Tourism Ministry, said neighboring countries would like to add new flight routes to Cambodia. “Vietnam’s deputy minister made a proposal to Veng Sereyvuth last month to open a route between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap,” he said. “We should open more international airports to bring more visitors.”
Some applaud the idea while others say it might hinder Phnom Penh businesses. “It’s not a bad idea because people could have more choices,” said Pan Chantra, chairman of Royal Air Cambodge.
Boon Goh, country manager for Silk Air, said his company would closely look at the viability of Siem Reap if the government officially announces the change.
However, Sorn Sokna, vice chairman of Sokimex, which collects Angkor Wat entrance fees, said he does not like the idea of bypassing Phnom Penh. “I don’t want direct flights to Siem Reap because it would upset tourism companies and businesses in Phnom Penh,” he said.
The government made an agreement with Societe Concessionnaire l’Aeroport in 1995 that Pochentong Airport in Phnom Penh would be the only international gateway until 2005. After the factional fighting in July 1997, the government partially allowed direct flights from Bangkok to help revive tourism.
But in July, the two parties amended their contract to allow Cambodia to open other international airports before 2005 if the government guaranteed to offset any loss incurred by Pochentong.