The Asian Development Bank has agreed to provide a $4 million loan to the government to expand Ratanakkiri airport so it can receive international flights, an ADB official said Saturday. Work on the airport will start in about 18 months, he said.
Located in the center of Banlung town, the new airport is expected to be finished by 2007 and will allow tourists to fly directly from China and Vietnam, as well as from Siem Reap province, said Alfredo Perdiguero, a project economist with the ADB’s Mekong Department.
“Tourism is growing so much in Cambodia, but is too focused on Siem Reap,” Perdiguero said. “We [will] distribute the tourists in other areas.”
“Hopefully it will be positive change” and will create jobs and provide an alternative to illegal logging, Perdiguero added.
According to the ADB’s most recent statistics, about 12,000 people visit the province each year. The new airport could triple that figure to 36,000 tourists, or about 100 tourists per day, he said.
At the moment, “many tourist operators feel they can’t take tourists to [Ratanakkiri],” because the airport is so basic, he said.
The runway will be paved and lengthened so planes carrying 70 passengers can land, and a fence will be built to keep wild animals out, he said.
A program to educate the province’s ethnic minorities about the possible dangers of increased tourism, such as forced and child prostitution, will be implemented, and brochures in Khmer will explain to minority villagers how larger numbers of tourists will behave, he said, adding that the project will be managed by the Ministry of Tourism.
NGOs working with the province’s ethnic minority hill tribes have voiced concerns about the effects of a tourist influx on the local minorities.
If land grabbing and deforestation continue in the province, poverty will make people even more vulnerable to human trafficking, said Graeme Brown, Ratanakkiri coordinator for the Forestry Alliance of Cambodia.
Tourist development will likely further increase land values in the province which could lead to an increase in land grabbing if indigenous people remain unable to secure land titles to their communal land, said Russell Peterson, director of NGO Forum said.
There is already reports of increased prostitution in the province prompted by the tourism industry, he added.