TUESDAY, 18 MAY 2010 15:03 NGUON SOVAN
TOURISM industry representatives expressed concern Monday that visitors to the Kingdom could decrease as Bangkok, a key gateway to Cambodia, descended further into violence.
Government officials played down the impact of escalating violence in Thailand’s capital, where at least 36 people have died in the past four days, on Cambodia’s tourist trade.
However, anecdotal evidence from operators in the Kingdom show the number of international travellers visiting Cambodia has declined heavily in recent weeks.
Until recently, Phnom Penh-based agency AOT Travel was used to some 60 guests arriving to Cambodia from Thailand each week, its president Chin Thim said Monday.
But last week the agency saw close to no visitors arriving from Thailand, he said, and travellers heading out of Cambodia to its neighbour also dropped dramatically.
“Up to 80 tourists used to book flights to Bangkok each week, but over the last two months our company has had on average five tourists booking flights each week – with no bookings last week,” he said.
“The Thai situation looks more serious, so more tourists will be scared to visit Thailand. It will probably have a further impact on Cambodian tourism in the coming months,” he said.
Chim Tim added that between 30 and 40 percent of tourists visiting Thailand also travel to Cambodia, meaning that cancellations in Bangkok could impact the sector.
Bangkok hotels were less than 30 percent full, about half the usual rate for this time of year, representatives from the Thai Hotels Association told Bloomberg on Monday.
Ang Kim Eang, chairman of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, which has 196 agents as members, also said the unrest in Thailand had forced package tourists to cancel trips.
“Some international tourists have bought tour packages to visit both Thailand and Cambodia, and when there is turmoil in Thailand, they cancel their tours, so Cambodia will also lose these tourists,” he said.
However, he said that Cambodia’s tourism sector would be buffered by tourists rerouting through other ASEAN countries such as Vietnam and Singapore, a viewpoint reiterated by government officials.
Cambodia’s Tourism Minister, Thong Khon, agreed Monday that the violence in Bangkok is affecting the tourism industry, but said he believes it is not a serious problem.
He cited figures showing foreign visitors to the Kingdom increased 10.55 percent in the first four months of this year, compared to the same period last year.
“If there was no unrest in Thailand in recent months, the sector would have increased even further, but despite the unrest, our tourism has not been seriously affected,” he said.
“Tourists are changing their plans to enter Cambodia through other gateways instead of Thailand,” he added.
Thong Khon said that Thailand was the main tourist gateway into Cambodia before the political crisis began.
He estimated that in the past, around 37 percent of tourists entered via Thailand, with Vietnam a close second with around 32 percent.
He said the trend has shifted, with Vietnam now bringing 35 percent of tourists and Thailand decreasing to 33 percent, followed by countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea.
The minister remained confident that overall tourist numbers would increase this year, with projections based on the first four months data forecasting 2.4 million tourists will visit the Kingdom this year, up from 2.16 million last year.
He added that there is no way of firmly evaluating how hard the Thai conflict has impacted the industry in recent weeks.
Shares in Thailand’s tourism-allied companies fell more than 4 percent on average on the Thai Stock exchange Monday, according to Bloomberg.
Share value for Thai Airways International, which runs flights into Cambodia, had dropped 4.7 percent to 25.25 baht (US$0.78) by 10am.
Airports of Thailand, the nation’s biggest airfield operator, fell 3.6 percent to 33.75 baht. Minor International, the largest hotel and fast-food restaurant operator, slid 4 percent to 9.7 baht.