On a state visit to Cambodia last year, Singapore’s Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong reportedly told Cambodia that its industrial sector would not be able to match the “quality or price” of other Asian nations. The prime minister suggested that Cambodia instead look towards tourism for the most economic growth-though Prime Minister Hun Sen moved quickly to refute the prediction, saying that if Cambodians relied only on tourism for its economy, “we won’t have anything to eat.”
Tourism is Cambodia’s second largest source of economic growth, behind the garment industry. The numbers of visitors continue to climb each year, with an estimated arrival of 1 million people in 2003 and 3.5 million by 2010.
By 2005, what many see as a make or break year for the garment sector that could see its decline as the country’s top economic engine, Cambodia should be well prepared to handle a large number of foreign visitors, Tourism Minister Veng Sereyvuth said recently.
“By then, in terms of infrastructure, the country will be stronger,” he said. National road links to Cambodia’s neighbors will be complete, offering travelers an easy land route to Cambodia.
“The impact will be enormous,” Veng Sereyvuth said. “Travelers from other countries can have a taste coming through [Cambodia].”
Domestic tourism will increase, too, with more people able to move safely and comfortably around the country, especially through the current “bottleneck” from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap that currently exists in Kompong Thom province.
Airport infrastructure will be improved by then, too, he said-not just in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, but in over-looked Sihanoukville, too.
“Sihanoukville has to become more. It has to go. It has been blocking a triangle of tourism,” he said.
Boat tours, sea cruises, smooth national roads-all of them will be contributing to the growth of the tourism sector in 2005, he said. “Strength is gaining from year to year.”