PM Says More Cambodians Traveling Abroad

Prime Minister Hun Sen said Sat­urday that more Cambodians are traveling abroad than ever before, with almost one million doing so over the recent New Year holiday season alone.

The total number of trips abroad by Cambodians in all of 2007 is not yet available, but Information Min­ister Khieu Kanharith said Sunday that he expects the number to be above the roughly 3 million international trips counted in 2006.

“It means Cambodians have the money to travel to Thailand, Aus­tral­ia, Hong Kong and Singapore. Foreign tourists visited Cambodia, and Cambodians visited abroad,” Hun Sen said at a groundbreaking ceremony for a road up Bokor moun­tain in Kampot province.

Hun Sen added that Cambodians traveling within the country numbered 5.7 million last year.

Tourism officials said this is the first time the Tourism Ministry has co­operated with the Ministry of In­terior’s Immigration Department to calc­ulate the number of Cambo­dians going abroad.

Khieu Kanharith said that the ma­jority of locals who traveled abroad did so for business and visited neighboring countries, like Thailand and Vietnam.

“This is showing that the Cam­bo­dian middle class has increased which is good for our economy. People’s living standards have improved,” he said.

However SRP President Sam Rainsy said he was concerned the figure indicated an outflow of Cam­bodians seeking work in neighboring countries, rather than a bur­geon­ing middle class gaining momentum.

“I don’t believe that many Cam­bodians traveled overseas while they are having difficulty in their living standards,” he said. “I am concerned people are seeking employment. They are not tourists but slaves. The government wants to hide the information that they didn’t have employment.”

Hem Chanly, managing director of the travel agency Hola Travel Cambodia Co Ltd, said Sun­day that his work over the last two years has reflected a significant increase in the number of Cam­­bodians traveling abroad.

“It is also the middle class. It’s not only wealthy people,” he said.

The difficulty of obtaining visas has limited Cambodians’ ability to visit countries outside Southeast Asia, Hem Chanly said. “People want to go far, but have problems getting visas,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Emily Lodish)

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