A growing trend of Cambodians and international residents celebrating Christmas this year has helped local shops generate more revenue in the weeks leading up to yesterday’s holiday, officials and shop owners said last week.
Sok Sarith, general manager of the International Book Center on Monivong Boulevard, said Cambodians and foreign residents alike are buying more holiday paraphernalia than in past years, pushing sales 30 percent higher in December compared with other months.
“Foreigners working in Cambodia cannot miss out on celebrating Christmas and New Year’s, so they need to come to souvenir shops in order to buy gifts for their friends here or outside the country,” he said, adding that he has seen more Cambodian students who studied abroad doing the same.
“Restaurants and hotels are also showing Christmas displays because they want to draw foreign customers,” he said.
International Book Center offers holiday paraphernalia from gift wrap to pre-decorated trees, ranging in price from $5 to $560.
Sam Sokchan, a handicraft seller at Russian Market, said that since the end of the financial crisis, more international travelers have visited her shop during the holiday season looking to buy Cambodian-made gifts for their friends and family back home.
“It was so quiet in 2008…because there were no foreign customers visiting my shop. They felt the pinch and did not want to leave their countries,” she said, adding that during this holiday season, she is earning between $50 to $60 a day, compared with just $20 a day last year.
Fashion boutiques, convenience stores and gas stations around Phnom Penh are hanging Christmas displays in front of their stores with the hopes of creating more business.
Dam Pheng, a clothes vendor on the riverside selling toddler-sized Santa outfits, said she has sold more Christmas goods this year for a similar reason, as English-speaking schools are starting to have students dress up for the holiday.
“I am always happy during this time because I sell many Christmas clothes to children,” she said. “When those kids go to school, they will be asked to wear those clothes.”
Ho Vandy, co-chair of the state-private-sector Tourism Working Group, said sales are being driven by an influx of Western visitors traveling to the country on the heels of a warming global economic climate.
“More people are coming here because of the good weather and because it is an easily accessible, inexpensive country to visit,” he said.
According to data released earlier this month by the Ministry of Tourism, tourist arrivals to Cambodia increased by 15.4 percent to 2.3 million during the first 10 months of 2011, compared with the period last year.
Christmas is also reaching Cambodians in the workplace, where foreign residents celebrate the holiday, said Dok Narin, secretary of state at the Ministry of Cult and Religion.
“Nowadays, our country has many non-governmental organizations where most [foreigners] are Christian, so they will hold a party to celebrate their Christian festivals,” he said, adding that he discourages Cambodians from taking part in the celebrations because it leads them away from practicing Buddhism.
“Speaking the truth, those [following] Buddhism should not celebrate this festival…. But we follow our constitutional law that people can pay respect to any religion they want so long as it does not repress other religions,” he said.