Monday, August 30, 2010

Cambodia tourism records swift recovery

September 2010
Travel & Tourism News Middle East

TOURIST arrivals in Cambodia increased by about 12 per cent in the first six months of this year, according to recently released Ministry of Tourism statistics.

In the first half of 2010, Cambodia received a total of 1,221,156 foreign visitors, up from 1,086,518 in the same period last year.

Tourists from Asia accounted for a large number of the visitors, with arrivals from neighbouring Vietnam taking the top spot at 208,667, up 46 per cent on 2009.

South Korea stood at number two, with 136,498, up around 35 per cent annually. Japan was third with 71,107 tourists, a modest rise of about seven per cent.

Tourism Minister Thong Khon said the growth in tourism was due in part to a gradual recovery of the global economy and an easing of vehicle restrictions at Cambodia’s border frontiers – which has led traffic at some checkpoints to soar by up to two-thirds.

“We hope the number will continue to grow in the second half of this year,” he said.

Ang Kim Eang, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, said visa-exception agreements and an increase in flights would be an important factor in attracting more tourists to the kingdom in coming months.

He said that airlines such as Bangkok Airways and Air Asia would increase their flights from October to December, the high tourist season.

The statistics showed that in the first six months, tourist arrivals by air rose an estimated 14 per cent to 632,373, while arrivals by road and water rose around 13 per cent to 522,634.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cambodia's Khmer heritage threatened by looting of archeological sites

A visitor at the temples of Angkor, which have been looted for their carvings and artworks. Photograph: David Longstreath/AP

Angkor temples among threatened Cambodian sites highlighted by the International Council of Museums

Tuesday 3 August 2010
Florence Evin
Guardian Weekly

Bells, drums, bracelets, bronze statuettes; cornaline and agate beads; a Buddha's head, a lingam, a phallic symbol associated with the Hindu deity Shiva, lintels, fragments of chiselled bas-reliefs and engraved sandstone steles; female divinities, ritual objects, gilded wooden statues … and so the list goes on. In all, the first Red List of Cambodian Antiquities at Risk published on the internet by the International Council of Museums (ICOM) details 46 categories of object.

Despite the measures taken by the Cambodian government to protect its 2,000-year-old Khmer heritage, the widespread looting and destruction of archaeological sites continues.

At present only the immediate vicinity (covering about 230 sq km) of the main Angkor temples – Angkor Wat, Bayon, Baphuon, Preah Khan and Ta-Prohm – which Unesco placed on its World Heritage list in 1992, is protected. Angkorian remains hidden in the forest extend over a much larger area.

Apart from Angkor, attempts to prevent looting have had little effect. "The prehistoric past of Cambodia remains largely unexplored and undocumented," ICOM explains on its site. "The looting of sites from all periods of Cambodia's past robs the world of the chance to understand the unique beginnings and continuous evolution of the Khmer civilisation."

Local people have no idea of the antiquities' value nor even the ban on trade. This explains why, in 2009, only two thefts – of sandstone statues of the Buddha – were reported to Interpol, which keeps track of stolen artefacts for its 188 members, including Cambodia.

Recent thefts have not achieved the same media impact as the spectacular raid on Banteay Chmar temple, east of Angkor, in 1999, when a 50-metre strip of bas-reliefs was cut out and trucked through the jungle to Thailand. Fortunately, the loot was intercepted in Thailand and returned to Cambodia. ICOM's first Red List of Cambodian Antiquities at Risk targets collectors, museums, art dealers, customs and police, but also seeks to inform the general public and raise overall awareness.

Although neither of the two recognised trafficking hubs – Thailand and Switzerland – have ratified the Unesco convention on illicit trade in cultural goods, this development may well make them less attractive.

This article originally appeared in Le Monde

Monday, August 2, 2010

Cambodia’s Angkor Casino To Break Ground In October

2 Aug, 2010 / GamblingCompliance Ltd. / Bill Spain

Building work on Cambodia’s biggest casino will start in October – with Harrah’s and MGM among potential investors in the resort, according to developers.
South Korean real-estate developer Intercity Group will build the $470m integrated resort and casino in the popular tourist region of Siem Reap, with the aim of targeting the growing number of Chinese visitors to Southeast Asia.

The resort – 195 miles northwest of the capital Phnom Penh – is in a region which attracts over a million tourists a year to its famous Angkor temples, with about 580,000 flying directly into Siem Reap.

James Cho, vice-president, said the construction of the Water Park complex, with three hotels, a gaming centre, shopping and convention centres and an 18-hole golf course, will start in October and should open in early 2012.

He said that the casino, which was granted a licence in 2008, aimed to draw visitors from nearby Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore and particularly China.

He said: "They're visiting Singapore, they're visiting Southeast Asia, and we just think that right now it's a very good time, it's the right time. Asian gaming is hitting Cambodia right now.

"With the Chinese, the increase in the middle class from China, Southeast Asia is a very good market. There is no visa restriction like they have in Macau.”

Cho said around 2.2 million tourists a year visited Cambodia and 1.3 million of them went to the temples in Siem Reap. The new resort is hoping to attract 60 to 70 percent of them.

Cho said the Intercity Group casino would be the first sited away from country's borders and was part of the Cambodian government's effort to attract more tourists into the country.

"They're making it a very rare exception and allowing a resort with gaming to be built," he said.

He said that Harrah’s and MGM Resorts International, the largest casino owner on the Las Vegas strip, are among potential investors to visit the site.

“All these big guys are interested in operation management deals,” Cho said. “We’re confident because the feasibility is there and gaming concessions in this region are so rare.”

Despite the early successes of Resorts World Sentosa, which opened in Singapore in February and Marina Bay Sands which opened in April, which have helped drive awareness of the potential economic value of casino development, observers caution funding for the casino may remain an issue.

Cho said the tourist draw of Angkor Wat, a 12th century Hindu temple, an international airport and “tons” of incentives from the government, including corporate tax holidays and low gaming levies, would make the project viable.

He said: “Not everybody’s going to gamble in Macau or Singapore - Cambodia is family friendly and it’s cheaper.”

Hyung Joo Kim, Intercity’s chief executive officer, is scheduled to meet Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen this week in the capital Phnom Penh.

He will be accompanied by several partners in the project, including Tobin Prior, a former executive with Kerzner International who led that firm’s failed bid for a casino in Singapore in 2006.

The Cambodian government had a revenue of $19m from its 29 casinos in 2008, according to Finance Ministry statistics. That fell to $17m last year, because of a drop in tourist arrivals and diplomatic disagreements with neighbouring Thailand.

Most forms of gambling are forbidden in Thailand but thousands of Thais regularly visit massive casino complexes just over the border with Cambodia.

NagaCorp is currently the only casino operator in Cambodia, with a licence to run casinos within 200 km (124 miles) of Phnom Penh until 2065.

NagaCorp recently reported a decrease in revenue of 39.1 percent to $117.8m for 2009, down from $193.5m in 2008, with net profit down 36.3 percent to $25.5m.

In 2009 60 percent of NagaCorp’s VIP gamblers were from Malaysia, 15 percent from Vietnam and 12 percent from each of Singapore and China.

Sean Monaghan, an industry expert who formerly worked as a gaming analyst in Singapore said junket operators in Thailand and China would be vital to the success of the project.

He said: “Even though Siem Reap sounds goods, most of the people that go there aren’t really casino players. You have to have a very, very solid team to pull that financing off.”