Official: Sell Cambodia as SARS-Free

Cambodia’s tourism industry has hit rock bottom, dragged there by severe acute respiratory syndrome, and even as airline flights and hotel occupancies continue to fall, of­ficials say they ex­pect the sector to rebound.

Their plan to rebuild tourism is built on marketing the country as a SARS-free destination and luring tourists through better and cheaper vacation packages.

“What we are trying to do now is to convince Europeans to visit us,” said Tourism Minister Veng Sereyvuth, who is encouraging travel agencies and airlines to promote Cambodia through ag­gres­­­sive advertising campaigns.

He added that any promotion should work to shatter the myth that travelers risk contracting SARS simply by flying to South­east Asia.

The minister said he was worried that the drop in tourism meant the loss of thousands of jobs or significantly lowered wages for Cambodians who rely on tourism for their livelihood, such as motorcycle-taxi drivers and hotel workers.

Tourism is suffering most in Siem Reap, where occupancy rates have plummeted.

“My business has jumped down to zero,” said Sam Heang, president of the Siem Reap Hotel Asso­ciation and the owner of Nokor Phnom hotel. “There is no one staying in my ho­tel right now.”

If business does not rebound soon, the hotel may have to close its doors, he said. Since SARS caused Asian travel to slow to a steady crawl, Sam Heang’s hotel has lost as much as $80,000 per month, he said. Although he has managed to avoid layoffs, his hotel staffers have little to do and are living on wages of $50 a month.

About 20 percent of all hotel workers there are now unemployed, Sam Heang said.

The hotels that are suffering most are high-end resorts, Sam Heang said.

Smaller guest houses and cheaper hotels are not feeling the effects of SARS as much as those in the three- to five-star range, he said.

Related Stories

Latest News