International Tourist
By: Heng Sopheap (National Institute of Management). Pictures by : Nathan Dexter ( January, 2002 Volume 2 No.1 )

Cambodia may well end up hitching its economic star to the almighty tourist dollar over the coming decades as the tourism market continues to grow not only for the Kingdom, but around the world. Tourism is a lucrative market and the number of tourists visiting Cambodia has continued to soar as the Kingdom maintains a newfound political stability. So what is the definition of an international tourist? According to the National Institute of Management in Phnom Penh, this includes "any temporary visitor staying at least 24 hours in a country whose motives for travel that can be described as being leisure (whether pleasure, holiday, study or sport), family, business or work".

Business travelers include such diverse categories as tour guides, commercial travelers, business representatives and artists. The economic crisis felt in many major nations in Asia and the rest of the world in 1997 slowed tourism growth in the East Asia and the Pacific region that year to zero. The current recession, combined with the September 11 terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the war in Afghanistan have severely damaged tourism worldwide, including Cambodia's tourism market. A large number of international tourists cancelled trips overseas in the wake of the September attack. However that dip has already started to correct itself and tourist numbers for Cambodia are again on the rise. Cambodia still saw a 22 per cent rise in international tourist numbers in the first 10 months of 2001 compared to corresponding period in 2000. From January through to October of 2001, a total of 334,737 international tourists visited Cambodia. Of them, almost half (168,125) were holidaymakers. About one sixth (53,120) were here on business, and less than two per cent (8,189) cited "other purposes".

About one-third (105,290) arrived in Cambodia by direct flights from centers such as Bangkok and Singapore. The highest percentage of visitors came from Asia and Oceania (25.8 per cent), followed by Europeans (16 per cent), North Americans (112 per cent) and people from the Middle East and Africa. A new report from the World Tourism Organization, called Tourism 2020 Vision, estimates an average annual rise in inbound international tourism to the Mekong grouping of countries (Cambodia, Laos, China, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam) of 7.7 per cent by the year 2020, based on statistics from 1995 to the present. That would mean 183 million international tourists to this region by 2020, with China alone taking in 137 million. Based on these figures, the Mekong countries will increase their global tourism market share from 5.1 per cent in 1995 to 11.4 per cent by 2020. The challenge for those leading the development of tourism in these countries will be to satisfy the divergent tastes of the two principal markets both Asian travelers, and those from the industrialized but distant markets of Europe and North America.