The number of foreign tourists visiting Cambodia’s iconic Angkor Wat temple complex fell last year, with NGOs and other sources blaming the drop in numbers on political instability in the country and high service fees charged to visitors.
Around 2.2 million tourists visited the Angkor Archeological Park in Siem Reap province last year, down 14.8 percent from the year before, while ticket sales in 2018 brought in $99 million, down 15 percent from the previous year, according to recent figures released by Cambodia’s Ministry of Tourism.
Tourists from China, the United States, and South Korea meanwhile remained the largest source of foreign income to the vast 12th century Hindu temple complex, the Ministry said in a year-end report.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, Siem Reap Angkor Tour Guide Association president Khieu Thy said that fewer Chinese tourists are now coming to Angkor, with more opting instead to visit attractions in Preah Sihanouk province in the country’s south.
At least three aircraft bringing tourists landed each day in Siem Reap in 2018. But only one plane landed each day in 2019, and on some days no planes landed at all, he said.
“Meanwhile, many Chinese tourists were going last year to Kompong Som,” also called Sihanoukville, he said.
Also speaking to RFA, Chan Chamroeun—Siem Reap coordinator for the Cambodian rights group Adhoc—blamed falling tourist numbers at Angkor on high fees for local transportation, lodging, and other tourist services, and on delays in the issuing of visas.
Costs to visit the park, with a one-day ticket charged at $37 and a three-day visit costing $62, have remained largely unchanged in recent years, though, sources said.
Political conflict in Cambodia has been another reason for the drop in tourist numbers, Chan Chamroeun said, noting that numbers began to fall in 2018 when the government dissolved Cambodia’s main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, and began to arrest the group’s supporters.
“I don’t think that tourists want to come to countries where the political situation is unstable,” he said.
Speaking to RFA, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Tourism Tob Sopheak denied that political tensions in Cambodia have affected tourism at Angkor Wat, blaming the drop in numbers instead on foreign trade disputes “that have prevented tourists from traveling abroad.”
Badly organized flight connections and the poor quality of souvenirs offered for sale in Siem Reap are also to blame, he said.
“We have been working hard on some of these negative factors. The Ministry of Tourism is collaborating with relevant institutions, and we are going to solve these problems together,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Pheap Aun. Written in English by Richard Finney.