While the government has set the goal of attracting each year four million to six million visitors to Cambodia by 2010, tourism association representatives say they foresee serious obstacles on the way.
The four-million mark is attainable, said Tourism Minister Lay Prohas on Thursday, adding that this goal was first mentioned at a ministerial meeting on Aug 1.
But tourism industry insiders say the country is simply not equipped to handle such a growth in visitors.
“I think [the Cambodian tourism sector] can handle one million tourists annually, but I don’t think it is realistic to expect [it to accommodate] three million more tourists,” within five short years, said Moeung Sonn, president of the National Association of Tourism Enterprise, on Wednesday.
“Politicians must sit down with private investors and find a solution,” to overcome hurdles related to poor tourism infrastructure, said Ho Vandy, secretary-general of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents. Otherwise, this may slow down the tourism boom, he said.
Other challenges in the years to come will include political stability—a crucial factor to attract visitors—and dealing with travel agencies operating without government licenses, Ho Vandy said.
“If they [the illegal tour agencies] have no license and something bad happens, they have no insurance [to compensate tourists]. So they just close the door and run away,” he said.
Maintaining stability at the Ministry of Tourism is also an issue, industry representatives said.
On Friday, Moeung Sonn sent a letter to National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh in support of Lay Prohas amid speculations that the prince intends to remove the tourism minister.
Removing Lay Prohas would be a step in the wrong direction for the future of Cambodian Tourism, said Moeung Sonn adding that keeping the industry on an upward trend “depends on the politicians in the Ministry of Tourism and the government.”
(Additional reporting by Pin Sisovann)