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Khmer New Year sparks tourist exodus

Chea Vannak / Khmer Times Share:
Prime Minister Hun Sen rings in Khmer New Year during the Angkor Sankranta festival in Siem Reap province. AKP

About 5.2 million Cambodians took domestic tours during three-day Khmer New Year, up 23 percent on the same period last year, the Tourism Ministry says.

A ministry report said the Angkor Sangkranta Festival in Siem Reap province drew most tourists.

The Khmer traditional New Year, which ran from April 14 to 16, is one of country’s longest holiday periods.

Of the number of travelers, about 5.1 million were Cambodian and 90,000 were foreign tourists, said the report, which grouped 25 provinces and a city into six destinations – Phnom Penh, Siem Reap areas, coastal areas, northeast, Battambang areas, and others.

Siem Reap province was most popular, with 1.8 million tourists including 36,698 foreign tourists.

Coastal area areas including Sihanoukville, Kampot, Kep, and Koh Kong provinces received nearly a half million visitors, both national and foreign.

Northeast provinces – Kratie, Mondulkiri, Ratanakkiri, and Stung Treng which are well-known for eco-tourism sites – received a record 262,958 national and 2,529 foreign tourists, the report said.

Phnom Penh, one of the country’s main tourism drawcards, saw the number of remain flat at 170,000 due to massive departures to the provinces.

Tourism Minister Thong Khon said he highly valued the increase of holiday makers during the Khmer New Year period due to more accessible transport to other parts of the country and with preparations in each tourism destination to receive tourists.

“In Khmer New Year this year, we saw more people making tours from the provinces. With accessible infrastructure, more people are starting to go on tours,” he said.

Soy Sinol, director of the provincial tourism department of Kampot, said his province received the most tourists – about 200,000 – out of the provinces in their group.

He said more tourist activities and diversification of tourism products were probably behind more tourists being attracted to the province.

Many Cambodians left the cities to attend celebrations at hometowns. KT/Chor Sokunthea

“We saw people had many fun activities in the province like visiting Bokor Mountain and taking boats on Preak Kampot tributary beside the seaside,” Mr Sinol said.

He added that most tourists in the Khmer New Year period paid for overnight stays at the province.

Ngin Sovimeam, director of eco-tourism at the Mondulkiri tourism department, said increasing incomes were leading more people to go on holiday but tourism development had a way to grow.

Besides eco-tourism development, hospitality and restaurants were booming in the province, but he called for more investment because the current 1,500 hotel and guesthouses rooms could not accommodate the influx of tourists during high seasons like the Khmer New Year.

Chhay Sivlin, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, agreed and said the increasing number of people taking holidays was due to more activities, both cultural and tourist, that had been set up to serve tourists.

“As we can see, a series of Sangkranta Festivals was established in many provinces this year, presenting more culture and tradition that has pushed people to start taking holidays in these places,” Ms Sivlin said.

“As more interesting tourism products are established, more people will focus on local holidays rather than visit abroad.”

However, trash left at tourism sites remains an issue. Officials and tourism experts have called for people to work together to keep tourism sites clean.

Ho Vandy, secretary-general of the Cambodian National Tourism Alliance, said that with growing arrivals of tourists to tourism sites, littering trash was the issue that would hurt tourism most.

“If tourism sites are littered by trash, no tourists want to visit that place again,” he said. “Trash is the enemy of tourism.”

He urged all relevant parties from local authorities, tourists, and tour operators to join hands to clean the cities and tourism sites.

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