Tourism Sector Meeting Hopes Of Recovery

The number of visitors to Cam­bodia increased by 10.6 percent in the first four months of 2010 compared to the same period last year as arrivals by air continued to re­bound, a sign that the domestic tourism sector is fulfilling expectations of a recovery this year.

According to data released by the Tourism Ministry on Friday, the number of visitors to Cambodia rose to 884,657 between January and April, compared to 800,243 in the first four months of 2009.

Air arrivals, credited with bringing the largest share of tourism dollars, accounted for 53 percent of all arrivals during the period, reaching 468,981 passengers compared to 421,998 in 2009, when airline passenger numbers fell by 10.3 percent. Prior to the global economic crisis, air arrivals reached 503,328 in the first quarter of 2008.

As visitor numbers make a comeback, industry experts said Cam­bodia’s tourism sector, which could be affected in the short-term by civil unrest in Thailand, should aim to take advantage of possible shifts in visitor destinations in the region.

Tourism has been one of the big­gest casualties of the recent violence in Bangkok, and Thai officials have warned it could be a prolonged period of time before Thailand’s tourism industry recovers as tourists choose more stable destinations in the region.

Experts say that travel agents who currently depend on an inflow of tourists to Cambodia from Thailand will be obliged to look for clients elsewhere as fewer tourists set their eyes on Thailand as a holiday destination.

Flights from Bangkok represent about 25 percent of all flights to Phnom Penh International Airport and about 20 percent of all flights to Siem Reap International Airport, according to Societe Concessionaire des Aeroports, or SCA, Cambodia’s airports operator.

“Our neighboring country is getting worse in their internal politics. Cambodia can jump on that chance,” said Ho Vandy, co-chair of the state-private Tourism Working Group.

Government efforts to promote Cambodia in a wider range of markets would eventually place less emphasis on those coming to Cambodia via Thailand, Mr Vandy said.

“Travel agents inside and outside of Thailand they are smart,” said Ang Kim Eang, president of the Association of Travel Agents. “They will think of something and look for new destinations in the future.”

Mr Kim Eang said that travel agents would learn from the current experience and start molding their business operations to benefit from tourists avoiding Thailand but still with the desire of visiting the wider Southeast Asia region.

“Some [tourists] have been considering Vietnam and Cambodia as replacement destinations,” he said. “Like China during the Chinese New Year, they have switched destinations to Vietnam and Cambodia away from Thailand.”

Despite the opportunities presenting themselves to the tourism sector by Thailand’s misfortunes, Cambodia must first give travelers more alternative routes by which to enter Cambodia.

The crisis in Thailand is “a very big incentive for Cambodia to diversify and for the travel agencies to consider other ways for people to visit Cambodia,” said Alexis de Suremain, the owner of a group of boutique hotels in Phnom Penh. “We shouldn’t be relying on a single entry point.”

That trend already seems to be in the pipeline with China Eastern last month starting a new route between Siem Reap city and Shanghai.

Like many, Ho Bopha, managing director of the 2World Travel agency in Phnom Penh, is keen on benefiting from the lack of stability in Thailand by bringing more people to Cambodia. But she too is aware that Cambodia must increase the number of direct flights first.

“It is good that Thailand has problems [in its tourism sector], but the bad thing is that many tourists transit in Thailand when they come to Cambodia,” she said.




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