Tourism in Cambodia got off on the wrong foot this year as the number of visitors in January dropped by roughly 2.2 percent, officials with the Ministry of Tourism said Wednesday.
Although the numbers have yet to be crunched, officials believe February will show another reduction, however at a gentler gradient, in Cambodian tourism.
Kong Sopheareak, director for the Ministry of Tourism’s Statistics and Tourism Information Department, estimated the number of visitors would fall by about 1 percent for February 2009. He attributed the slight improvement over January to the government’s waiver of visa fees for travelers coming from Vietnam and Laos.
“I think, in February, the number of visitors might be better because of [waiving visa fees] along the border with Laos and Vietnam,” he said.
Tourism Minister Thong Khon reiterated the anticipated 1 percent decline for February and said the figure for that month should be finalized by early next week.
Last year in February, there were 214,902 arriving tourists, meaning February 2009 could see about 2,150 fewer sightseers if the 1 percent drop holds true. Cambodia counted 218,691 foreign tourists during the opening month of 2009, Kong Sopheareak said, a decrease of 4,890 travelers when compared to January 2008.
He cited the global financial meltdown as well as the problems in the airline industry as reasons behind this year’s slowdown.
“The world financial crisis, the increasing price of plane tickets and the lack of flights from Taiwan are the factors for the slump in the tourism industry,” he said, adding that fewer direct flights connecting Cambodia to Taiwan are hurting tourism.
Businesses have braced themselves for a slowdown since late 2008, with some of them now reporting empty guestrooms and dinning halls that beforehand were frequented by groups of tourists.
Working as the front office supervisor at the Golden Sand Hotel in Preah Sihanouk province, Ek Tola said the number of guests staying at the hotel’s 110 rooms has been falling each month. He said from December to January room occupancy dropped off by an estimated 30 percent and again by another 30 percent from January to February.
“The number of guests have dropped since January,” he said. “We are now so worried about the decline, and we might have no foreign guests during the low [tourists] season,” which runs from April to September.
Ho Vandy, co-chairman of the government-private sector working group, said the regional slump in tourism is a serious problem but is not beyond repair. He said a joint task force between the government and the private sector has brainstormed several solutions, such as reducing visa fees and making visits to the Angkor Wat temple complex more flexible.
“This is a very small number,” he said Wednesday of January’s decrease. “It could be worse if we don’t do anything to prevent it.”
Ho Vandy, along with Thong Khon, calculated tourism levels could remain the same in 2009 as the year before or dip slightly lower. Thong Khon said in 2008 tourism grew 5.5 percent with more than 2.1 million visitors.