Sunday, June 07, 2009

What to do to promote tourism in Cambodia

I was told on Wednesday there was a meeting of the Cambodia Hotel Association in Siem Reap. Someone who attended said government officials advised hotel owners here to lower prices. But of course. Hotel owners have already done that, without the government telling them to do so, some by as much as 50%. My aunt who recently came for a visit stayed at a five-star hotel here for US$100 a night for a twin-share. Many are also offering "Pay 2 nights, Stay 3 nights" deals.

I live in Siem Reap where Bloom has a retail outlet, and I can tell you things are pretty dire. There are few visitors and the Steung Hotel beside us has closed one of its two buildings, because of the low occupancy. I was told by a Westerner who works for a travel company that the Angkor Howard Hotel has shut, as has Angkor Village Hotel.

This April 9 report by the Phnom Penh Post interviewed hotel owners who are not cutting back on staff, but things have changed in the last month. Chhun Hy, the young man who works with me here, tells me many of his friends have lost their jobs and have returned to their "homeland". He says many Cambodians in Siem Reap are saying more businesses will shut this month and the next. Already you can see many "For Rent" signs around town.

Instead of the government placing the onus on hotel owners (cut prices), the Cambodia Hotel Association is looking for strategic, or policy-level, input from the government, which they clearly summarised in a February meeting with HE Keat Chhon, Deputy Prime Minister and Senior Minister, Ministry of Economy and Finance:

1. Increase the capacity of flights to Siem Reap and encourage flights among Cambodian cities (Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville).

2. Waive the visa fee to allow mobility of travelers who are visiting neighboring countries

3. promote overland travel by allowing tourist cars to come in, and facilitate arrival procedures at the border.

Currently, only Bangkok Airways is allowed to operate the Bangkok-Siem Reap route. It is also the only one to fly Siem Reap- Phnom Penh. Jetstar, which flies Singapore-Siem Reap-Phnom Penh, is not allowed to sell tickets for the domestic leg in Cambodia, obviously to protect Bangkok Airways. Here is the government's response:

"The representative from the Civil Aviation Authority said that Bangkok Airways and the national airline had been given exclusive rights to Bangkok-Siem Reap (Bkk-SR) flights in order enable the companies to recoup their considerable investments [What investments are these? Did they contribute to the building of the airport, for instance, or are we talking about informal "investments"].

"However there is no longer a [Cambodian] national airline so only Bangkok Airways is servicing this route." [Non-sequitur]

"He also stated that although Cambodia had an ‘Open Skies’ policy, the number of flights to Siem Reap as well as the landing of the larger aircraft of international carriers is limited due to the risk of damaging the fragile temples nearby. [I am sure there are similar sized planes owned by airlines other than Bangkok Airways that can cover the route. If this is a concern, put it out there and let's see the response of other international airlines].

"He stated as well that the government’s agreement with Bangkok Airways was due to expire in March 2009." [Great, March has come and passed, so what is the updated status? I could not find any news online.]

I won't go into the rest but I will say one thing that was not raised: in addition to waiving visa fees, the government should also waive the USD25 departure tax, which many travellers consider a rip-off.

Anyway, you should read the minutes yourself, as it's a great example of business ideas and initiative in this country.

Tourism is crucial to Cambodia's economy, with some estimating that up to 75% of foreign currency enters this country through the tourism industry.


Unknown said...

Recently visited Cambodia in April 2009. I had no idea there was a 25$ exit visa. Only advise is to get the e-visa and make sure to print in color several copies.
Anyone else?
Another idea is to promote eco friendly tours around Siem Reap.

Diana Saw said...

Thanks for the comment billblog. it's actually a USD25 airport departure tax--if you travel overland you don't need to pay this money...


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