While Cambodia reached last year a total of 4.8 million travellers, up by 7% over 2014, the Province of Siem Reap registered a decline of 9% in total international arrivals.The decline was largely due to a drop in total arrivals from Europe according to Siem Reap tourism officials. In 2015, Siem Reap still welcomed a stunning five million tourists of which 2.1 million were foreign visitors. European travellers declined by 16% compared to 2014. Talking to the Phnom Penh Post, Chhoey Chhan, Head of Siem Reap’s provincial tourism department, explained that Europe’s bad performance was mostly due to fear of terrorism, concerns over regional air safety and a sluggish economic performance in many countries. Not only Europe was down, but total arrivals from Korea, Japan and Vietnam declined by 10%. They were not enough compensated by the strong rise of Chinese and Thai arrivals (respectively up by 14% and 9% over 2014).
Authorities in Siem Reap should then also asked themselves if tourism development of the destination over the last decade is not reaching its saturation point, consequently taking its toll in markets which are keener to come for a cultural experience rather than for a leisure “seaside-style” experience.
If the decline in arrivals to Siem Reap continues over the years to come while the rest of Cambodia grows, the Province should then think seriously about ways to reinvent itself and promote the destination differently. A cap on total arrivals and a thrive for more quality tourism might then be the solution. But for now, it is still only theories…
As the Authority in charge of the entire region of Angkor, APSARA Authority mission since its setting in 1995 is to ensure the protection, the preservation and the valuation of national cultural property in and around Angkor and the Siem Reap region. It also looking at sustainable ways to develop cultural tourism around the Angkor temples.
The Royal Government of Cambodia is monitoring the work of the authority which so far has rather managed well the Angkor site itself. Despite the rising number of tourists visiting the temples, the government tries to keep flows under control and also work to minimize inevitable physical damages within Angkor Wat compound as over two million visitors stroll in the Park every year. APSARA initiatives have so far been crowned with success as proved in 2004, when the Angkor Site was taken off the World Heritage List in danger by UNESCO. As highlighted by APSARA management, “tourists, even when they visit ‘en masse’, value authenticity and look for quality services”.
APSARA recently launched a campaign to show the right behaviour of visitors when visiting the historical World Heritage site of Angkor Wat. The video is easily accessible through social media, in particular YouTube. It gives a code of conduct that any visitor to Angkor Wat site should see.