PHNOM PENH (eTN) – Cambodia will play host to the ASEAN Travel Forum next January for the second time in its history. Phnom Penh is getting ready to provide a memorable welcome to all delegates as explained by His Excellency So Mara, Secretary of State, Cambodia Ministry of Tourism.
eTN: How does the preparation of the ASEAN Travel Forum (ATF) look?
SO MARA: I am very pleased to say that we can already see all the signs of success even before we started to send the invitation to hosted buyers and media. We first thought that we would get 350 sellers. We then planned to have 400 sellers, but now we already received more than 480 requests. We have now to find solutions to accommodate all the requests and look at ways to expand the exhibition area to welcome more sellers. We are now in discussion with the Organizing Committee, as well as with the owners of Diamond Island Convention & Exhibition Center, ATF[‘s] main venue for the mart. For the buyers and media, we expect to host 400 buyers and 100 media. And we already received over 860 registrations. We might increase now the total number of hosted buyers with the deadline for final approval being set up for the first week of November.
eTN: What will the Ministry in Phnom Penh do to welcome ATF delegates?
SO MARA: We want to give a lasting memory to delegates about Cambodia’s traditional sense of welcome. We already blocked 1,500 rooms in Phnom Penh for the event with new prestigious venues including the brand new Sofitel Phnom Penh or Diamond Island Convention & Exhibition Center. All official meetings with ASEAN Ministers of tourism + 5 [China, India, Korea, Japan, and Russia] as well as with the tourism representatives from Saudi Arabia and UAE, will be hosted in the brand new Council of Ministers building, which is equipped with the latest high-tech facilities. This will be the first time that such meetings will take place in an official government’s building. Among the highlights, all ministers will receive a courtesy call from our Prime Minister and be granted an audience with our King. For all delegates, we prepare a lot of surprises, including the presence of world-famous VIPs and stars.
eTN: What do you expect from the ATF in terms of image benefits?
SO MARA: We first expect to show that Cambodia is fully back on the world tourism stage and that it is a must-see destination along [with] all other ASEAN countries. ATF gives us the opportunity to show that Cambodia is today at peace and a safe destination, thanks to strong political stability under the current government. We hope also to highlight that Cambodia offers a great diversity of holiday opportunities. Beyond the iconic temples of Angkor, which remains our country’s “signature,” the Kingdom of Cambodia is also a premier destination for beach tourism or eco-tourism.
eTN: How far has Cambodia tourism come this year?
SO MARA: We are likely to reach a new record in tourist arrivals. In 2009, we recorded a moderate growth of 1.7 percent to 2.16 million travelers. Until August of this year, total arrivals are up by 14.6 percent. We now forecast 2.42 million travelers for 2010 and estimate that tourist arrivals should reach 2.75 million in 2011. A very positive trend is Siem Reap. After two years of stagnation, international arrivals at Siem Reap airport were up by almost 17 percent from January to August 2010.
eTN: Do you try to diversify Cambodia’s image by promoting new destinations?
SO MARA: Our three main destinations for visitors are Siem Reap/Angkor temples, Phnom Penh, and Sihanoukville in the south. However, we want to create a new icon along our coastal area as we believe that we have some of the best pristine beaches in Southeast Asia. We indeed look to qualify one of our beaches as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. We want also to put more emphasis on eco-tourism, especially in the northeastern provinces of our country where rare animals and endangered flora species can still be discovered and observed. There are also other secondary destinations we want to push up such as Kep/Kampot as a beach resort destination or Preah Vihar temple for cultural tourism. We just completed a road to the temple, making it an easy destination, only two hours away from Siem Reap.