Visitors from Vietnam now outnumber people from all other countries visiting Cambodia, clinching the number-one tourist spot from South Koreans, whose numbers dropped 30 percent in February compared to 12 months earlier, a Ministry of Tourism official said Wednesday.
January was the first month that Vietnam, with 22,875 tourists, overtook South Korea, with its 22,524 tourists, ministry statistics showed.
South Koreans have long been a major component of Cambodia tourism, and in 2007 they outnumbered, by at least double, visitors from any other country, according to ministry figures. The number of Vietnamese visitors to Cambodia has grown steadily for years, but jumped more than 300 percent from 2005 to 2008, with a total of 209,000 visitors last year, according to the statistics.
“Good relations is one part of it,” Kong Sopheareak, director of the ministry’s statistics and tourism information department, said of the increasing number of Vietnamese tourists.
“The one part I am still thinking is that the travel is easy and no visa also,” he said Wednesday, referring to the agreement in December that saw Cambodia and Vietnam remove visa requirements for each other’s citizens.
After Vietnam and South Korea, the countries that send the most tourists to Cambodia, in order of number of travelers, are the US, China, Japan, the UK, France, Australia, Thailand, and Laos, Kong Sopheareak said.
“For the Vietnamese it’s easy to cross [into Cambodia]. For Koreans they arrive by air and the price is expensive,” he said, explaining the drop off.
South Koreans have for years seen Cambodia as an attractive destination and that won’t diminish, a South Korean Embassy official said Wednesday.
“It is a very reasonable price. Many people want to see Angkor, so most go to Siem Reap,” said the official, who asked that he not be identified by name.
The declining value of Korea’s won against the US dollar, however, has removed some of the attraction of Cambodia, he added.
The number of visitors from several other countries has declined over the last several months, and in December overall visitors declined by 9.5 percent compared to the year before, according to the ministry statistics. January saw a 2 percent decline in tourists year-on-year.
Complete February statistics are not yet available, Kong Sopheareak said.
Tourism arrivals grew only 5.5 percent in 2008, after years of growth of around 20 percent per year.
Ho Vandy, chairman of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents’ steering committee, said the reduction in the number of South Korean tourists doesn’t spell as big an economic loss as it might seem.
Koreans have long had a unique tourism infrastructure in Cambodia, importing their own South Korean tour guides, specifically visiting their own restaurants and hotels, Ho Vandy said.
“Those tourists give very little money to the country, to the local people, because most of the expense is to their people,” Ho Vandy said, adding that some South Korean businesses may have to widen their appeal to other groups to stay in business.
The South Korean Embassy official said that while there are 70 South Korean restaurants in Phnom Penh and 40 in Siem Reap, South Korean tourists do visit all types of eateries and generally stay at both local and foreign-owned hotels.
Kong Sopheareak noted that before South Koreans outnumbered other visitors, it was Japan who provided the most visitors in 2002 to 2003. And in 2001, Americans held the top slot.
“I think Vietnam will stay number one for 2009,” he added. “For 2010, I don’t know.”