According to the Phnom Penh Post, the decision by local authorities in Sihanoukville to charge a two-dollar fee to all travellers -both foreign and local- taking a ferry to the islands is generating ire from Cambodian people.
The newspaper reports in an earlier edition that since August 10, the Sihanoukville Provincial Tourism Department began enforcing the $2 fee on all passengers destined primarily for the islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem, as well as to private destinations.
Taking to department head Taing Socheat Kroesna in Sihanoukville, the Phnom Penh learned that the revenues generated by the new tax would then be normally used to help Sihanoukville and the islands clean up the environment and improve public facilities.
“The purpose of collecting the fee at the port is to develop public services, protect the environment and strengthen security while promoting the tourism industry,” he said, adding that the Finance Ministry had announced the new fee in July.
However, ferry services operator Mrs Suy Sreymom, CEO of Island Speed Ferry Cambodia, said that many locals are now angry with the decision and voiced loudly their disagreement. “The fee is the worst thing for the government to implement and it will damage the island’s image for local tourists,” she explained to the newspaper.
She said Cambodians find the new fee objectionable as they regard the islands to be public land that should be freely accessible to all citizens. Many made comparisons with the entrance regime implemented in Angkor Wat, when foreign visitors are charged a minimum of US$37 for a one day pass while Cambodian citizens can visit the magnificent site free of charge.
Sreymom also questioned the legitimacy of the government imposing a fee on ferry services as the port and its ferry networks were built using private investments. Talking to Sinan Thourn, chairman of the Cambodian chapter for the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), the latter declared that the government already collects taxes from local businesses and companies to develop this service and imposing a new fee looks unnecessary. “The government should consider dropping the fee before it hurts the tourism industry,” he indicated.
Most probably, the story will end up as followed: the fee is likely to be dropped for locals while foreigners will be the only ones to be charged. As usual…