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Cambodia Upbeat about Tourism Development

By: GMS Media Travel Consultant Posted: June-03-2008 in
GMS Media Travel Consultant

With Sihanoukville as the official location of the 21st Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) Tourism Working Group (TWG) and Mekong Tourism Development Project (MTDP) meeting, held on May 20-21 at the Sokha Beach Resort, Cambodia is upbeat about its amazing tourism development going on. Hosted by the Ministry of Tourism, the event was being held in conjunction with the 5th Working Group on Tourism Development Co-operation in the Emerald Triangle, comprising the borders of Cambodia, Lao PDR and Thailand.

On the agenda were topics, such as the several international border checkpoints, human resources development, tourism promotion, infrastructure and tourism facility development, and community participation. Don Ross, Managing Director of Travel Trade Report (TTR) Weekly based in Bangkok, was one of the few journalists specialising on Thailand and the Mekong Region to attend the meeting. He was the first to file a summary of the event on the web-site www.ttrweekly.com this week - in order to give a firsthand report about the outcome.

According to Don Ross, Mekong tourism policy makers say they will consider an offer from Laos to host the rotating Mekong Tourism Co-ordination Office (MTCO) in 2009. The position of the MTCO Executive Director was filled in sometime ago with the person of Stephen Yong, a former PATA executive, who dropped out after some two years in the job. The vacant position is still waiting for a soon to be appointed new director within the upcoming months. Currently, Thailand hosts MTCO in Bangkok, through the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, which provides free office space and utilities.

Furthermore, it was discussed that in the context of an already adopted Mekong Tourism Marketing Plan a new web-site called www.exploremekong.org will be established leading up to "Visit Mekong Year 2010." But nevertheless, most of the government representatives from the six GMS countries - Cambodia, China (Yunnan and Guangxi), Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam – were cautious to approve a new campaign logo, which was introduced by Peter Semone, Senior Advisor to MTCO in Bangkok. Following the report of Don Ross, "TWG members have three weeks to return a verdict on the branding, which will be used on promotions and the web-site leading up to Visit Mekong Year 2010."

Interesting to note is that Cambodia is looking for a branding campaign logo by itself. "Explore Cambodia" is just one of the many suggestions made during a recent Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA) meeting in Siem Reap. On a recent one-month visit to the country, I came across so many development schemes, which will guarantee the growth of tourism of up to 20% on a yearly count. Surprisingly, Cambodia had just announced its achievement to receive some 2 million tourists in 2007 alone.

Exciting tourism developments evolved in Siem Reap, where a new National Museum has successfully opened its doors to visitors and light and sound shows at Angkor Wat are sought after. There is a steadily improving infrastructure of high-class hotels, such as Angkor Palace Resort & Spa, Borei Angkor, Le Meridien Angkor or Sofitel Royal Angkor Golf & Spa Resort. For nightlife, there is a crowded Pub Street and the Passage running parallel about a half of a block over – with galleries, shops, bars, and small metropolitan restaurants. To clean the nearby Siem Reap River is a meritorious project to do. Streets branching out in all directions, reaching Tonle Sap in the south, Phnom Penh further east, Kulen Mountain in the north, and Poipet at the Thai border in the west. The road to Thailand is still under construction and should be completed in 2009.

Phnom Penh is becoming a magnet for developers and foreign investors. In the wake of the booming property and real estate market with land prices going sky high, there was the First Home & Lifestyle Expo at the Phnom Penh Cultural Centre on April 4-6, 2008. Some 27 major retail and wholesale companies participated, displaying a wide range of quality products and services. The Expo will be an annual event not to be missed.

Another exhibition is now permanently displayed at the centrally located Wat Phnom Culture and Fine Arts Museum that shows Khmer civilisation from the 1st century to the present and advertises Kampuchea as the "Golden Land." For the grim past of the Khmer Rouge era during 1975-1979, just head out to the Choeng Ek Memorial on a newly constructed access road.

In the capital city, recommended accommodations are the Phnom Penh Hotel, where Thailand-born Pheerasit Kanthiwang is Acting General Manager, Raffles Hotel Le Royal, Bougainvillier Hotel on the lively riverfront or the luxurious Hotel Cambodiana, overlooking the mighty Mekong River's Four Arms. New dining outlets are the Italian Restaurant Le Duo, Restaurant Khmer Malis and the elegant French Van's Restaurant. Night bars in the city abound. To reach the outlying areas of Battambang in the west and Rattanakiri and Mondulkiri in the east, there are functioning taxi services and buses.

The best-developed highway connects Phnom Penh with the port town of Sihanoukville in the south. On the way, you should explore ancient Angkor Borei/Phnom Da at Takeo and the river landscape of Kampot. Nearby Bokor Mountain will be developed as an attractive hill station, while it is already possible to reach the elusive Mekong Delta in Vietnam by a newly opened border crossing to Ha Tien, if you have a Vietnamese visa. Actually, this newly developed "Cambodian Riviera" connects Kampot via Kep to Vietnam and via Koh Kong to Thailand.

Sihanoukville is the newest rising star and jewel in the crown of Cambodian tourism. Blessed with five sand-lined beaches and an emerging international airport, the town will become a fierce competitor of Pattaya City on Thailand's East Coast. Also, it will become the starting point for excursions into Vietnam's Mekong Delta and further to Ho Chi Minh City. A Vietnamese consulate is already established in Sihanoukville. Both, the luxurious Sokha Beach Resort and the nostalgic Independence Hotel are open for international and domestic guests. Ideal for holding conferences, both hotels have romantic restaurants near by the sea. Hotel veteran Axel Goerlach, German GM of the Sokha Beach Resort, told me on my last visit in April that two years work at this prime property in Sihanoukville had likely become his last exciting challenge. Overseeing a small kingdom of green palms along a private beachfront, his view rings true for any visitor with an optimistic world-view.

This article was first published on www.travelblackboardasia.com

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