After more than a decade of spectacular growth, how can the tourism industry in Cambodia respond to the more demanding market conditions now faced by holiday destinations worldwide? In common with all periods of adversity, the current situation also presents opportunities for those willing and able to respond to the challenges ahead.
Tourism has played an important role in the development of Cambodia. It has brought employment, improvements in infrastructure, training and general education and living standards for many people, and raised the international profile of Cambodia. Its growth has helped diversify economic activity, and broaden the base of foreign earnings, currently dominated by the garment industry.
But the tourism industry itself needs to diversify and mature. More needs to be done to both promote, and to support Cambodia as a holistic destination in its own right. In recent years the question taxing most industry players was how to increase the yield from each tourist: how to encourage them to stay longer; how to add more value? With visitor numbers expected to fall, this has assumed a greater priority, and is now joined by the question of how to keep up the numbers.
Undoubtedly and quite rightly, any future Cambodian tourism experience is going to involve the Angkor temples. This World Heritage Site has driven tourism development and it has been relatively easy and inexpensive to improve the infrastructure around a small area of Siem Reap to produce world class, 5-star experiences - a modern airport, easy transfers the short distance to town, a wide range of accommodation types, an impressive range of restaurants, and other tourism related businesses.
The problem is that it has been all too easy to develop the tourism industry around Angkor. A typical itinerary combines a few days in Siem Reap plus a visit to Phnom Penh with the whole trip maybe lasting less than a week, and often as an add on to a longer regional tour. This makes Cambodia vulnerable as demonstrated by the knock on effect of problems at Bangkok airport at the end of 2008, which seriously affected arrivals. Another result of these whistle stop tours of Angkor/Siem Reap ? Phnom Penh is that many visitors take away a narrow and distorted view of the country, one in which a stroll down “Pub Street” in Siem Reap is often seen as a glimpse of the “real” Cambodia.
The first priority in promoting Cambodia as a destination in its own right is to develop more extensive trips that take advantage of ongoing improvements in roads and infrastructure. A number of 10 to 15 day tours covering much more of the country are in place already and these are proving highly popular. Visitor satisfaction is high, with a general feeling that for a small, compact country, Cambodia has much to offer, as alluded to by the Ministry of Tourism’s slogan, ‘Kingdom of Wonder’. In addition to the world class cultural experience of the temples, and the unique phenomenon of Tonle Sap, there are pristine rainforests, exotic wildlife, remote wildernesses, the mighty Mekong, unrivalled beaches and islands, a wide range of seaside resorts, very varied topography and land use, (not evident to the traveller between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh). Also of significance and interest is the all pervading, historical, cultural, social and political impact of the recent past.
The second opportunity for growth is to develop new Cambodian tourist attractions in an environmentally sustainable way. This includes the mainstream activities in addition to eco-tourism itself. Tours to include Cambodia’s lesser visited provincial centres can be developed easily, and the infrastructure is largely in place. Expansion of tourism into the virgin rainforests of the Cardamoms, or the north-east provinces of Rattanakiri and Mondulkiri, or development of the islands, could soon destroy the very attractions themselves. Fortunately, ecotourism demands a premium that people will pay, and this can fund the development of environmentally sensitive resorts. Once built, the operating costs of low impact facilities are lower than other establishments, and the higher prices help boost long term profitability. Low impact eco tours also help to preserve the uniqueness of Cambodia.
A third component should be the development and promotion of the wider responsible tourism practices. Along with the benefits that tourism undoubtedly brings, the largely unplanned and rapid development of Siem Reap and the coast around Sihanoukville has resulted in many environmental and social issues. These not only affect the local communities but negatively impact tourists’ experiences and so reduce long term profitability. Adopting practices that benefit the poor and disadvantaged in communities around the tourism centres, not only benefits the communities but is a smart marketing and promotional tool with the potential to increase business, extend the length of stay, open up new markets, and encourage repeat business. In comparison with the longer established tourism industry in neighbouring Thailand where people return again and again, few people come back to Cambodia. In the past it has been time consuming and labour intensive to establish and sustain links with local communities, but new initiatives being introduced in Siem Reap are making it easier for businesses to improve their CSR performance. The real challenge is to engage the Asian tour operators in the above processes and develop more sustainable mass tourism activities.
Cambodia is still a welcoming place to do business. The government encourages investment by allowing 100 per cent foreign ownership of businesses, it is easy to arrange long leases on properties, and there are new developments which will open up the possibility of obtaining leasehold title to property, though non-Cambodian nationals cannot own land. Those with the government’s ear should be championing policies that seize the current opportunities for change, and move Cambodian tourism onto a broader and more sustainable footing.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has launched e-Visa, which enables you to apply for a Cambodia tourist visa online. Instead of applying through Cambodian Embassy, all you need to do is to complete the online application form and pay with your credit card. After receiving your Visa through email, print it out and bring it along when you travel to Cambodia.
For those who wish to apply Business Visa, K-Visa or Diplomatic Visa, please contact your nearest Cambodian Embassy for more information. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation is unable to accept applications from holders of Diplomatic Passports.
Entry Type Single entry only
Fees USD20 + USD5 (processing charge)
Validity 3 months (starting from the date of issue)
Length of Stay 30 days (more)
Processing Time 3 business days
Requirement A passport validity of more than six months balance at time of entry, a recent passport-size photo in digital format (JPEG or PNG format), a valid credit card (Visa/MasterCard/American Express/Discover).
Visa Exemption Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam
Countries not supported Afghanistan, Algeria, Arab Saudi, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Sudan (Please apply your Visa from your nearest embassy or on-arrival at all major checkpoints)