Weak Tourism Blamed on SARS, Election

Travel agents agree that only a few tourists are visiting Cambo­dia these days. They disagree on why.

Some continue to blame the economic effects of severe acute respiratory syndrome. Others say it’s because of the rainy season. A few pinned the dropoff on Sun­day’s national election.

“Incoming passengers have dropped 30 percent since right before the election,” said Nay Sareth, a station officer with Malaysia Airlines. “Pre-flight booking is less and less. Business is pretty bad right now.”

Whatever the reasons, many in the tourism industry say things will improve once a new government is formed and the rainy season is over. After the pounding SARS dealt to the tourism industry during the past five months, the number of visitors to Cam­bodia has little place to go but up.

Thousands of tourists have stayed away from Cambodia since March, according to Ministry of Tourism statistics. In April, the number of arrivals was about

43 percent less than in April 2002. After hitting rock bottom in May, more tourists showed up in June, though the number is still about 28 percent less than last year.

Before the year, Ministry of Tourism Secretary of State Thong Khon said, Cambodia hoped for

1 million visitors. SARS, however, caused the ministry to reduce its goal to 800,000. In the first six months, 311,948 tourists entered the kingdom, down almost 17 percent from the same time last year.

A Tourism Ministry report re­leased recently identified SARS as the “utmost obstacle” to tourism development in the region. The report said that the tourism industry can progress when political stability, an infrastructure and public security are present.

The report also listed a series of problems with the ministry.

“[The] structure serving the tourism industry is still inadequate to respond to the requirements of mass tourism development,” the report said. “It should be noted also that the [Ministry of Tourism] suffers from limited promotional material and equipment compared to competitors due to restrictive financial resources.”

Thong Khon dismissed the idea that tourists are staying away from Cambodia due to the election.

“Tourists like security and safety,” he said. “Here security is complete. Safety is complete.”

Most travel agents said SARS was no longer a significant problem and that tours are booked for October and November. The big­gest issue now, said Cambo­dian Travel Agent Association Presi­dent Om Pharin, is how to draw tourists back in the country.

“The way to attract tourists after SARS is to offer discount package tours,” Om Pharin said. “Things are very safe right now. There is no political sign to be concerned about.”

Other travel agents disagreed. David Liu, assistant manager of Cambodia National Travel Ltd, said his customers from China are still not traveling because of SARS. He also thinks the current political situation is volatile.

“I think there will be very big trouble if they organize a new government,” Liu said. “This month business is not so good. I am scared there will be violence.”


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