In this interview, Cambodia's Minister of Tourism, Thong Khon, says that enhanced cooperation with ASEAN, aviation liberalization and membership of 'The Most Beautiful Bays in the World Club' will further boost the country's already fast-growing tourism industry.
What synergies between Cambodia and ASEAN hold the most potential for Cambodia?
I would like to reaffirm that we are pleased to push forwards towards ASEAN economic integration and development. In tourism there will be 'one billion tourists, one billion opportunities' by 2015.
How supportive is Cambodia of the Common Smart Visa Scheme within ASEAN?
Cambodia is strongly supportive of the Common Smart Visa Scheme within ASEAN. This initiative was built on the single visa program for tourists travelling between Cambodia and Thailand, which was implemented on January 1, 2013. The Scheme should also benefit non-ASEAN nationals visiting the region.
Is the estimate of around four million international visitor arrivals to Cambodia in line with predictions for 2013?
Cambodia is peaceful with security and safety. Accordingly, in the first nine months of 2013, Cambodia received 3.5 million international tourists, a growth rate of 18.6% over 2012. We expect around 4.2 million international visitor arrivals this year. We forecast that the total number of international tourist arrivals will reach five million by 2015, and 7.5 million by 2020. We are satisfied with these numbers.
What opportunities could Cambodia tourism could capitalize on more?
Domestic tourism. In 2012, Cambodia received about 3.5 million international tourists (a growth rate of 25%, over 2011). There were approximately eight million domestic tourists, a sector growing at 3%, bringing about US$2 billion revenue into the Cambodian economy and creating approximately 350,000 direct jobs. According to forecasts, by 2020, Cambodian tourism will generate approximately US$5 billion revenue, and create 800,000 direct jobs. Cambodian tourism is considered as 'Green Gold', a priority sector, contributing to socio-economic development and poverty reduction.
How important are ASEAN initiatives to the future of Cambodia's tourism?
In the spirit of the ASEAN Economic Community 2015, ASEAN member states endorsed the Mutual Recognition Arrangement on Tourism Professionals (MRA), which facilitates the mobility of tourism professionals in the region. It aims to share best practices among ASEAN member states for 32 job titles, including: Front Office, Housekeeping, Food and Beverage Services, Food Production, Travel Agencies, Tour Operations, Hotel and Travel Services. Both Cambodia and other ASEAN member states will seize this opportunity.
What are your priorities for infrastructure development in the tourism sector?
Cambodian tourism still faces certain challenges such as hard and soft infrastructure. The priorities for Cambodian tourism development include: 1. Tourism product development 2. Marketing and promotion 3. Connectivity and facilitation in travel and transportation 4. Tourism safety systems and impact management 5. Legal systems and managerial mechanisms 6. Human resource management.
What aviation developments would you like to see more of for Cambodia?
We would like to see more national and international flights connecting Cambodia and the region as well as the world, in addition to Siem Reap-Preah Sihanouk connectivity of local flights. We will conduct a study about airfares and service quality to determine air transport competitiveness. We encourage the reduction of landing and parking taxes, airport taxes, and other services. We also want to see more direct flights from ASEAN countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei, and big cities in China, Japan, India, Russia and Europe (such as Germany and UK). Particularly, we are pushing for more low cost carriers to connect Cambodia and the region.
What steps are the Government taking to promote Cambodia -- and not just Angkor Wat?
We are promoting antique temples, pagodas, ancient architectural buildings, court dances, Sbeik Thom drama, Khmer ancient battle heritage and traditions. They are vital to develop our tourism industry. For ecotourism we have a wide variety of natural resources in the northeast, Tonle Sap Lake, Tonle Mekong region, the Cardamom Mountains and the Bay of Cambodia, which is now a member of the World's Most Beautiful Bays Club.
What do you feel about the opportunities and challenges for tourism in Cambodia presented by the ASEAN Economic Community?
When the ASEAN Economic Community is established by 2015, ASEAN will become a single market and production base, a highly competitive economic region, a place of equitable economic development, a region fully integrated into the global economy. There will be free movement of goods, services, investment and skilled labor. There will be opportunities to further integrate Cambodia into the region and the world.
What new tourism marketing campaigns will Cambodia be announcing soon?
The Ministry of Tourism will continue promoting "Cambodia: Kingdom of Wonder" and "Clean City, Clean Resort, Good Service." We will finalize marketing plans for attracting Chinese tourists, pushing for further direct flights from the region, and facilitating travel across borders.
Importantly, we are now linking the Siem Reap / Angkor areas with the coast. In order to promote Cambodia Bay, we are now a member of the Most Beautiful Bays in the World Club. We are going to host the 9th General Assembly of the Most Beautiful Bays in the World Club. It will take place 5-8 December 2013, in conjunction with the 2013 Sea Festival. This invaluable event aims at bringing key players and other relevant stakeholders in tourism together to network, collaborate and share their experiences, best practices and technological innovations.
I would like to invite visitors and investors from the ASEAN region, and the rest of the world, to come to visit and invest in Cambodia: Kingdom of Wonder.