Minister: Cambodia Isn’t a Sex Tour Destination

Despite the country’s plethora of brothels, massage parlors and nightclubs, foreign travelers do not come to Cambodia looking exclusively for sex, Tourism Minister Lay Prohas said last week.

“Cambodia is never looked upon that way,” he said. “This country is not a sex tourism destination.”

Lay Prohas said that while there will always be sex-for-money enterprises in every country, Cambodia has relatively few and has made progress in eliminating them.

“The sex trade does not go away,” he said. “But you don’t see that visibleness in the city. In the past, it was so visible.”

The minister’s comments came on the heels of a Nov 17 conference during which representatives from the US, British, Australian and Thai embassies recommended to the Cambodian government an increased effort to fight the sex destination image.

Tourism is one of Cambodia’s fastest growing industries—and with it comes a boost in sex tourism, according to a UNDP report released in March.

“A negative aspect of the in­crease in tourism in Cambodia is the increase in the sex tourism industry,” the report stated.

In 2003, more than 701,000 people visited the country, and Lay Prohas is predicting more than 1 million tourists this year.

According to the UNDP report, 22 percent of visitors came to Cambodia for sex tourism, contributing to the prevalence of child prostitution, human trafficking and increased HIV/AIDS infection.

Entire Web sites and chatrooms extol the country’s brothels and sex establishments. And some foreign travel agencies include the country in package sex tours.

Lay Prohas said his ministry has taken steps to boost the country’s culture and image, but responsibility for cracking down on sex crimes lies with the Interior Ministry and individual municipalities.

Reducing sex tourism is difficult, however, because the practice brings in money and creates jobs, said Pierre Legros, regional coordinator for the NGO Afesip.

“The tourism industry is big, big money,” he said. “They don’t want to speak of sex tourism.”

He said that while the Tourism Ministry and foreign governments might be doing all they can to fight the sex destination image, the private sector isn’t as keen on following that path.

“It’s going against their business,” Legros said.


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