Tourism Day Meant to Boost Cambodia’s Damaged Image

One year ago, government officials kicked off efforts to boost tourism in the wake of the factional fighting. On Thursday, they once again called together industry representatives to announce a promotion plan to counteract the latest round of bad press.

This time, in an effort to erase the image of opposition demonstrations and street violence, Cam­bodia plans to celebrate World Tourism Day on Sunday, Sept 27.

“We decided to do this to counteract the bad images,” Tourism Secretary of State Thong Khon told a gathering of tour operators and hoteliers on Thursday. “If we can celebrate jubilantly, the public would see Cambodia is safe.”

To mark the occasion, the ministry has asked the government to waive airport tax, visa and Angkor Wat temple ticket fees on that day, he said. Tourism officials have not yet received a response, however. In addition, the government will officially open the Banteay Srei temple in Siem Reap province so that travel agents are clear the remote temple comes under the existing $20 temple pass and tourists should not be charged extra, he added.

For its part, the private sector has been asked to give discounts on Sept 27 and chip in for posters and banners with slogans boosting tourism. The posters would be put around the capital with such sayings as, “Love your country, love your tourists.”

The number of tourists arriving to Cambodia plummeted following the July 1997 fighting, and arrivals for 1997 were down 60 per­cent compared to 1996. Since then, tourism officials have been trying to lure visitors back.

The last promotion campaign, “Back in Business—Seeing is Believing,” was launched in Aug 1997. Tourism Director-General So Mara pronounced the campaign a success, with more than 90 groups of travel writers and tour operators visiting on “familiarization tours” sponsored by local businesses.

Statistics for this year show tourism in the first eight months of 1998 is still down about 25 percent compared to the same period in 1997. But So Mara optimistically predicted that by the end of 1998, Cambodia will see a 10 percent to 15 percent increase from last year.

But not everyone was entirely enthusiastic about the latest promotion. Tour operators suggested more advance notice would have allowed them to advertise the programs. Royal Air Cam­bodge Chairman Pan Chan­tra suggested at the meeting that a longer-term strategy to develop tourism was needed, rather than just a one-day event.

“We need a master plan for such a campaign,” he said. “We have a product to sell but we don’t know how to sell it.”

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