by Mao Pengfei, Nguon Sovan
PHNOM PENH, July 14 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian Tourism Minister Thong Khon has pinned the blame on "zero-dollar" tour companies for a slump in foreign tourists to the famed Angkor Archeological Park and vowed to take action against them.
The ancient park received 1.24 million foreign visitors in the first half of 2019, down 8.3 percent over the same period last year, said a government report, adding that the park saw a 9.3-percent drop in revenue from ticket sales to 55.7 million U.S. dollars.
China, the United States and South Korea were the biggest sources of foreign arrivals to the park. The report showed that 540,469 Chinese and 80,676 South Koreans visited the park, down 5.5 percent and 31.6 percent, respectively, as the American arrivals to the site rose by 3.4 percent to 90,552.
"The decrease in international arrivals to the Angkor so far this year resulted from the zero-cost tours offered by some tour operators last year," Khon said at a tourism seminar in Siem Reap province on Saturday, adding that "zero dollar" tour operators had discouraged tourists to re-visit Cambodia because they got ripped off them.
He said the "zero-dollar" tour companies took tourists to buy high-priced products, and the companies, or tour guides, got large kickbacks from the business owners.
"We're trying our best to bring the growth of tourists to the Angkor again... if any travel agents or tour operators are found offering zero-cost tours, they will not be allowed to continue their business anymore," he said. "This business practice has been damaging Cambodia's reputation and tourism."
The minister said some hotels and restaurants had also gone bankrupt because "zero-dollar" tour operators collected money from the customers, but did not give it to them.
"Zero-cost tour operators are the destroyers of tourist destinations in Siem Reap province because tourists visiting Cambodia through those tour operators have lost and disappointed, and some don't want to visit Cambodia again," he said.
Meanwhile, Khon also called on all souvenir shop owners not to sell fake or inferior products to tourists, saying that their dishonest business practice has adversely affected the country's tourism industry.
Chhay Sivlin, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA), which has nearly 300 travel and tour companies as its members, said on Sunday that the association always advised the members not to offer the "zero-dollar" tour package to tourists.
"All tour operators targeting the Chinese market should not focus on providing very cheap or zero-dollar tours to tourists. Instead, they should offer a fair price with good services," she told Xinhua.
"Tour operators should focus on the quality of tour services because Chinese are rich, and I believe that they want quality tour services, rather than cheap prices," she added.
Sivlin said tour operators should run their business based on the code of ethics and professionalism because if tour operators provide very cheap or "zero-dollar" tours to tourists and bring them to casinos, night clubs or souvenir shops, and get ripped off them, they will not come with those tour operators again.
Chhim Narith, Cambodia branch manager of Asian Overland Travel Pte. Ltd., said the hike of ticket prices two years ago was also a factor contributing to the fall of international arrivals to the Angkor.
Since February 2017, the price for a one-day ticket to visit the Angkor rose from 20 U.S. dollars to 37 dollars, a three-day pass increased from 40 dollars to 62 dollars and a seven-day ticket climbed from 60 dollars to 72 dollars.
"When this entrance fee increases, the price of tour packages has also increased, and the price of some hotels' rooms and food at some restaurants have also soared," he told Xinhua.
Located in northwest Siem Reap province, the Angkor Archeological Park, inscribed on the World Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1992, is the kingdom's most popular tourist destination.