A visiting US tour operator said Wednesday that Cambodia has the potential to become a popular tourist destination for Americans if political stability is achieved.
“Tourists will return to Cambodia only if the July elections are seen as fair and non-violent and if they lead to the establishment of an internationally recognized government,” Ken Fish, president of New York-based Absolute Asia tours, said at a press conference.
Fish, who has been sending about 400 tourists a year to Cambodia since 1990, said political instability and fears about security are keeping tourists away.
The tourism industry has been recovering slowly from the blow dealt by the factional fighting in July. Fish said his clients began coming back in September, but at half the previous rate.
But even before July, Americans made up a small percentage of overseas visitors, according to Ministry of Tourism statistics.
One of the main stumbling blocks to increasing the number of tourists from the US, Fish said, is a US State Department warning against all non-essential travel to Cambodia, which has been in place since December.
Although individual travelers may still want to visit, the problem of liability for tour operators will keep many group tours away.
Other hindrances include the regional economic crisis and the forest fires in Borneo. Fish said he had several clients recently cancel a trip to Cambodia, Laos and Bali out of fear of political instability—in Bali. Other Indonesian islands have experienced riots over rising prices.
However, Fish said there are several markets that can be tapped, including tour groups from US museums and foundations. Along with Siem Reap, there are other areas that could be developed, including Sihanoukville.
But attracting US tourists to alternative destinations is years away, he said, because of security and infrastructure concerns.
“Safety has to reach all parts of Cambodia,” he said, “not just Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.”