|Written by May Kunmakara and Kay Kimsong|
|Friday, 24 April 2009|
Latest figures up to March confirm that the sector is in decline as Vietnamese surpass South Koreans as top visitors to the Kingdom
Kong Sopheareak, director of the ministry's Statistics and Information Department, said 622,288 foreigners arrived in Cambodia during the first three months of the year, compared with 644,205 during the same period last year.
The quarter-on-quarter comparison also revealed that Vietnam replaced South Korea as the biggest source of visitors to Cambodia.
The number of Vietnamese arrivals increased by 49 percent, from 53,386 during the first quarter of 2008 to 79,724 in 2009. The number of South Korean arrivals fell from 97,536 during the first quarter of 2008 to 62,633 in 2009.
The number of Japanese arrivals also fell markedly, from 54,149 to 41,745, while the number of American visitors changed only slightly, from 47,612 to 46,616.
The number of arrivals from Thailand fell from 40,611 in 2008 to 27,050 in 2009, making it the eighth-largest supplier of visitors to the Kingdom.
"We have seen that tourists from Vietnam during this quarter have increased, while Thailand has been the opposite," Kong Sopheareak said.
We are in a stable situation ... there will be a slight increase in unemployment.
Both Kong Sopheareak and Ang Kim Eang, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, said the overall decline was insignificant and paled in comparison to declines seen in other countries, particularly elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
"I don't really think it is a big problem for us," Ang Kim Eang said.
"We are in a stable situation, even though there will be a slight increase in unemployment in the sector. If tourism dropped between 20 and 30 percent, that would be a big problem that we would care about."
He said that the country's political stability was a big factor in its ability to keep visitor numbers fairly level.
Minister of Tourism Thong Khon said he was encouraged that the sector did not rely solely on arrrivals from Thailand.
"Now, Vietnam is the main tourism source for us," he said.
Looking ahead, he said the ministry planned to target potential visitors in countries that had not been significantly affected by the financial crisis as well as to promote the Kingdom's ecotourism destinations.
"We will also try to make it easier for tourists to make it through border checkpoints, especially from nearby countries," he said.
Local media reported last week that the number of visitors passing through Phnom Penh International Airport dropped by 12.5 percent in the first quarter of 2009, while Siem Reap International Airport experienced a drop of 26 percent.
Mao Havannall, a secretary of state at the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA), said he did not believe the decline was so dramatic but that he could not provide exact figures.
"My point of view is that the airline industry won't really be affected much because everyone needs airlines," he said.
Kao Sivorn, director of flight operations at the SSCA, also said he believed air traffic had declined somewhat but not to the extent reported in local media.
For example, he said, airlines that typically offered five flights a week might have dropped down to four.
He also said the recent state of emergency declared in Bangkok had not significantly affected the number of travellers arriving from there, adding that Bangkok Airways did not cancel a single flight.