Foreign tourism down, domestic up

1389943704_2ee32d0805The financial global crisis, the swine flu, the political instability in Thailand and the rainy season are changing tourist numbers in Cambodia, according to an article of the English Cambodian newspaper The Phnom Penh Post.

After the 1999 opening of the market in this former Communist nation, the tourist industry became one of the faster growing investments in the impoverished Asian country. Located in the middle of huge bodies of tourist destinations like Thailand, Vietnam, India or China, Cambodia actually has many things to offer with its incomparable ancient archaeological site at the level of any Egyptian pyramid. In consequence, during the past decade thousands of visitors began traveling to Siem Riep ignoring other sites of a country that has much to do with its poor condition roads, security, health and issues like sex tourism, child abuse, HIV epidemics and others. The hunger for money in a country willing to escape from the rank of poverty, redirected its international visitors to the paths of Angkor putting in danger its own preservation and offering very expensive costs to see the temples.

But international tourism to Siem Reap is declining, says the Phnom Penh Post, while domestic has risen. Of course, it is early to say how conclusive those numbers could be in comparison to the 2008’s results, but the newspaper mentions the reports of the Siem Reap’s tourism department stating that during the first part of 2009 domestic tourism rose “11 percent to 692,000, which almost offset the 13-percent decline of foreign visitors.”

Every crisis is also an opportunity. Frommer put Cambodia as one of the top spots for the international tourism this year. It is important to analyze what Frommer said to this regard:

“Cambodia (But Not Angkor Wat): For people who have “done” Thailand and Vietnam, Cambodia seems like the next natural step. Tourism is taking off as a countrywide industry, and most people who contemplate Cambodia do so for a visit to Angkor Wat, the famed ruins in the jungle. But Angkor’s tourist infrastructure is growing faster than the site itself can support, and travelers now must be mindful of the impact they are having on the site (for more, see our new book 500 Places to See Before they Disappear). We recommend casting a net beyond the limits of Angkor Wat and seeing a bit more of the country. Among the highlights are boat trips up the Mekong River and through the jungle to catch a glimpse of the rare freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins; or perhaps spending some time in vibrant, energized Phnom Penh. Though the city’s population was decimated during the brutal genocide and repression of the Khmer Rouge, it slowly rebounds, with a disarming, and sometimes troubling, frankness about confronting the horrors of the recent past. No one leaves the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum — housed in a former Khmer Rouge prison and interrogation center — unaffected. The Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda (the latter named for the 5,000+ silver tiles that cover the floor) are more uplifting stops, and the National Museum has…” Read more in Frommer.

Going beyond Angkor Wat is fair for a country that has many other things to see. But it is important to change some customs that grew with the Cambodian tourist industry during the past 9 years. Cambodia has to develop a more competitive offer base in comparison to what Thailand and Vietnam are doing to attract international visitors. For an example, foreign visitors find Cambodia more expensive than Vietnam. Having a more developed Vietnam with  powerful tourism campaigns and cheaper to foreign visitors is a disadvantage to the Cambodian offer. On the other hand, the Thai crisis has affected  tourism to Cambodia as has been proven in the last four years. It shows of course that Cambodia depends on visitors from Thailand for much of it’s tourist industry.  Cambodia needs to make changes as soon as possible. One good solution would be for Cambodia to have it’s own airline company, able to  travel from Phnom Penh & Siem Reap to the main capitals of Asia and Europe. Developing more airports (Sihanoukville, Battambang, Ratanakiri, Preah Vihia, Poipet).

The news that domestic tourism is increasing shows us also the results of a growing economy. Most Cambodians have already the possibility to travel inside and outside their country. It is also a fact that tourism comes from middle and high classes, therefore it means that in the current step of our development, a certain small number of Cambodians are getting benefits, while most Cambodians, especially from rural areas, still at their shanty houses waiting the opportunities to know Angkor Wat.

Main reference:

  • May Kunmakara, ‘Tourists to Siem Riep down 0.6pc in first half. Total tourism declines slightly from 2008 as domestic travelers replace foreigners flocking to visit Angkorian historical sites’. The Phnom Penh Post, July 17, 2009, pag 13.

Communication to NGOs in Cambodia

The Don Bosco Technical Schools of Sihanoukville, Phnom Penh and Poipet, open inscriptions for new students between 17 and 20 August 2009. We invite NGOs, especially related with children and youth, to promote the coming of young people to the school to benefit from the programs:

  • Between 16 and 24 years old.
  • Boys and girls.
  • From poor or disadvantage families.

Applicants with recommendations from NGOs, orphanges and other institutions, will have a good recommendation and you are helping Don Bosco to guarantee that the programs will be approfit by the poor. Emails us for more information or visit our site.


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About Albeiro Rodas

Albeiro Rodas (in Cambodia Sky Ly Samnang), is a MA in Digital Communication, independent journalist and a Salesian of Don Bosco from Amalfi, Colombia, based in Cambodia since 1999. He is the creator of the Don Bosco schools of journalism in Sihanoukville and Kep with young people from poor communities and the founder of the Don Bosco Kep Children Fund. Medal for Social Commitment UPB (2010); among the 100 more upstanding Colombians abroad (Marca Colombia, 2012, and among the 12 Colombians that are making this a better world 2013 (

One response to “Foreign tourism down, domestic up”

  1. Smith Cam says :

    During the rainy season, the crystal clear water crashes over the smooth stones, but when the rains dry up, sentimental travelers can take a seat on the rocks to reflect on their journey. Opened just a few years ago, Ouda is located in Rokat Commune in Kravanh district 58 km from Pursat town.

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