While Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday applauded himself for developing Cambodia’s “open skies policy,” opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Wednesday that the benefits of lifting restrictions on foreign airlines have been limited.
In a school inauguration speech in Siem Reap on Tuesday, Hun Sen said the establishment of scores of hotels and hundreds of guest houses were helped by the open skies policy.
“I did a good open skies policy,” he said, as broadcast by Apsara radio. “Don’t be too quick to [judge] the government’s policy.”
Touting the boost in tourism sector jobs, he said: “One million tourists give jobs to 2.5 million Cambodians…. Even elephants have jobs.”
Hun Sen said, however, that development in Siem Reap must be driven by cultural tourism, “no sex or environmental tourism.”
The open sky policy has not brought more tourists to Phnom Penh, nor to provinces other than Siem Reap, Sam Rainsy said.
“The open sky policy is good for a short time and a small area,” he said, adding that since Hun Sen ordered the policy, allowing direct international flights to Siem Reap in 1999, Cambodia’s national carrier Royal Air Cambodge has folded.
The national carrier went bankrupt in October 2001.
Sam Rainsy said restrictions should be adopted to take into consideration environmental concerns and ensure sustainable growth of the tourist sector.
Kim Phally, president of the Tourist Transportation Association in Siem Reap, acknowledged that tourism is fueling job growth in the area.
But, he said, big foreign companies, which have travel agencies abroad, stand to gain the most from Siem Reap’s tourism opportunities.