EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW H.E. Dr. Thong Khon, Cambodia Minister of Tourism

Cambodia, Minister of Tourism, interview, tourism master plan, sustainability

During the Cambodia Travel Mart in Siem Reap, Cambodia Minister of Tourism Dr Khon Thong spoke with ASEAN.travel about the show and the evolution of Cambodia tourism.

How do you evaluate the first edition of CTM?

Dr. Thong Khon- For the first time, I feel well impressed and it is a good start. It shows that the Cambodian tourism industry, the government, media and organisers have all worded hand in hand to make this event a true success. Cambodia Travel Mart launching event is good and is an encouraging move to expose more Cambodia to the world. We already agreed to host the next show in Phnom Penh next year. However, it will be earlier in October as this first edition colluded with another major tourism event in China.

Why the choice of Phnom Penh next year ? Is Siem Reap still not able to host such a show on a regular basis?

Dr. Thong Khon- Siem Reap has many assets such as good air connections and many nice hotels. However, I think that Siem Reap still misses a proper convention and exhibition hall able to accommodate very large events. The government already secured land for the construction of an international convention and exhibition centre. We now contact investors to see who is potentially interested to invest in a facility able to accommodate 4,000 to 5,000 delegates. On the other hand, the next CTM will be able to expand its surface as Phnom Penh already has a large convention and exhibition facility and plenty of hotels surrounding the venue.

Talking about Siem Reap, the city had a lot of new tourist facilities and infrastructure developed during the last decade. What is now the next step to Siem Reap tourism development?

Dr. Thong Khon- We are aware that Siem Reap still lacks the infrastructure to turn it into a full-fledged first class tourism destination. We know it and this is why we are now speeding up the next phase of development of thecity. We call up on December 14 which involve governmental institution but also APSARA, the UNESCO and the ICC Angkor °. We are looking to better integrate Siem Reap and Angkor into a tourism master plan to be sure that the urban area of Siem Reap is growing in a sustainable manner. Siem Reap receives already four million tourists a year, that is approximately 20,000 a day.  We actually will work on the tourism master plan with communities to be sure that they fullfill also the expectations of local people. Siem Reap must be turned into a model of a good destination.

How is it possible to reveal the pressure that face Angkor Wat Temples with more and more visiting tourists?

Dr. Thong Khon- Our aim is to spread visitors’ flow beyond Angkor Wat. Siem Reap is already a complementary destination to the temples with attractions on its own. We now look at developping the Great Lake areas with its communauties. We see there a potential to offer authentic, community-based products. And also to enhance the length of stay of our international visitors.

How would you like to achieve a status of “Sustainable Good Destination” for Siem Reap?

Dr. Thong Khon- we look to set up accredited benchmark systems to be sure that we can control the quality of the services. The management of destinations is in fact of utmost importance. And of course, safety and security are necessary to a successful tourism destination.

Image result for Kratie colonial
Could Kratie gain fame among tourists thanks to a future UNESCO status?

How about the development of other destinations in Cambodia?

Dr Thong Khon- we have been promoting for couple of years now four destinations: Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and surroundings, the Coastal Area and Eco-tourism in the Northeast. We experience tremendous development in the coastal area thanks to many new hotels as well as new flights. But we also see more demand for ecotourism and we want to lure investors to invest for improving infrastructure in Cambodia northeast. Our tourism masterplan is actually looking at strengthening tourism convesrvation and protection laws for the entire country and not only for Siem Reap.

Cambodia recently said that it wants three other cities being recognized by the UNESCO. Why? 

Dr. Thong Khon- We increasingly look at promoting secondary destinations and a UNESCO status help to protect and also bring fame to a destination. We now seek UNESCO world heritage status or at least endorsement for three cities with a fine collection of colonial buildings: Battambang, Kampot and Kratie. We identified for example in Battambang some 200 colonial buildings and we start now to restore them and give them a new lease of life.

 

° ICC Angkor : International Co-ordinating Committee for the Safeguarding and

Development of the historic site of Angkor