Distraught members of the Phnom Penh Hotel Association grilled health and tourism officials Tuesday about what measures they are taking to prevent the asphyxiation of the industry by severe acute respiratory syndrome.
“The government must actively support the hotel industry. We need support to alleviate the stress of operating,” said one manager, noting that it is more expensive to run a hotel in Cambodia than it is in other countries due to high energy costs.
The hotelier urged Tourism Undersecretary of State Om Som Sun to issue value-added-tax relief to alleviate the stress of energy costs.
Om Som Sun advised the group to write a letter of request to the government and suggested that promotional tour packages offered by airlines and hotels could entice travelers to Cambodia.
But another hotelier said no amount of promotions would draw visitors to a region stigmatized by the media.
“I think today you can give a free ticket and they wouldn’t come to Cambodia,” he said, suggesting that the government enact a strong public relations campaign to inform the world that Cambodia is SARS-free.
SARS has dealt Cambodia’s tourism industry a damaging blow, greatly lowering the number of foreign visitors to Cambodia and threatening the jobs of workers in Cambodia’s fastest-growing industry.
Hoteliers asked whether enough efforts are being taken to investigate the domestic travel histories of suspected SARS patients.
After learning last month that a suspected SARS patient had stayed in his hotel, one manager suggested that the hospital and hotels could be contributing to the problem of a potential epidemic.
“By the time we learn of cases, hotel staff will have cleaned the rooms, and new guests will have stayed there,” the hotelier said. “Calmette [Hospital] has an obligation to contact any of the hotels so that they can seal the room.”
Dr Ly Sovann, Deputy Head of the Disease Surveillance Bureau, said he would consult the Health Ministry about the concern.
Another manager said she is nervous about what would happen if SARS does come to Cambodia.
“We are really worried about what the government will do if we have SARS,” she said.
Ly Sovann would not say whether the Health Ministry has designed a national plan of action to be implemented in case of an outbreak.
He said preventative measures, such as training doctors in barrier nursing and acquiring surgical masks, have been taken.
“We are ready already to fight SARS,” Ly Sovann said.