Tourists Top One Million But Gov’t Not Profiting

For the first time ever, more than one million tourists visited Cam­bodia in 2004, though officials say government revenues from the tourism industry are not improving.

The Ministry of Tourism has long been aiming to reach the million tourists mark, and Minis­ter of Tourism Lay Prohas said Tuesday his ministry will continue to promote the country as a safe place to visit.

“We will continue to build tour­ists’ confidence and try to change their perception,” he said.

Despite the record number of visitors, Ministry of Finance staff projected for the 2005 national bud­get a $300,000 drop in state rev­enue from the tourism sector, down from the $13 million in 2004.

National Assembly Finance and Banking Commission Chair­man Cheam Yeap said on Tues­day that corruption within the tourism sector and competition from neighboring countries led to the reduced estimate for 2005.

“There are a lot of factors that caused the decline, but declines and raises are normal,” Cheam Yeap said.

Sokimex President Sok Kong said even though more visitors are coming to Cambodia, it does not mean they are visiting Ang­kor Wat in greater numbers.

Customs and tourism officials often classify all foreigners who enter the country as tourists though they may have other business, he said.

Sok Kong also blamed Cambo­dians who have lived overseas of not paying for tickets to visit the temple compound.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said as the number of visitors to Cambodia increases, revenues to the government should also in­crease, particularly as every visitor is required to pay for a visa and airport tax.

But that is not happening, Sam Rainsy said.

“It’s corruption…Cambodia benefits very little compared to the potential,” he said, alleging that embassies and the foreign ministry were siphoning off visa fees and that the airport tax and entrance fee to Angkor Wat was being mishandled.

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