Koh Rong Samloeun’s Asia-Driven Tourism Boom


Just four years ago, the white sand beach at Koh Rong Samloeun’s Saracen Bay was empty. Now workers can be seen scrambling over the frames of new bungalows along the shoreline, and speed boats arrive hourly from the mainland to drop off crowds of tourists bound for the island’s dive centers and resorts.
“We started with just five bungalows, but by next year we will have 21,” said Sorya Chhon, manager at Orchid Resort. He estimated that tourism to the island this year has increased by roughly 20 percent since the 2015 high season.
It isn’t just Cambodia’s new tourist destinations like Koh Rong Samloeun that are seeing a rise in the number of visitors. The total number of tourists to Cambodia jumped from 4.5 million in 2014 to 4.8 million in 2015, with many of the new tourists coming from within Asia.
Meanwhile, resort managers on this island off the coast of Sihanoukville say the number of tourists coming from Europe and Australia during this year’s high season has fallen. Some analysts said that this is partly due to the devaluation of the euro and Australian dollar: the AUD has dropped from 1.05 USD to just .70 USD since 2013, while the euro has fallen from 1.40 to 1.10 USD.
Luu Meng, former president of the Cambodia Hotel Association, said that culture, not just currency, is also to blame for the drop in western tourists coming to southern islands and beaches. He said the area needs to offer a wider variety of attractions if it is going to draw tourists. “For us to remain sustainable in the European or Australian markets we need to explore activities in Sihanoukville other than beaches and hotels,” he said.
Tour organizers said western tourists have also been skittish about visiting Southeast Asia in the aftermath of bombings in Thailand and Indonesia.
Whatever the cause, Danny Humphries, who runs his Sun Tours party boat on day trips to the island, said that he has seen fewer western tourists this high season. “Western tourism – Europeans, Americans, Australians – has just plummeted this season, from the beginning of November,” he said.
But he added that rising numbers of Asian tourists have kept his party boat afloat, despite the slump in the number of Westerners. “All of our guests today are Chinese, Vietnamese, and Cambodian, he said. “Two years ago, a day like this we would have had 50 people, maybe 40 of them from Europe. Today we have 110, all from Asia.”
This change in demographics has required Mr. Humphries to change his approach to getting tourists to book trips on his boat. European and American tourists find tours and attractions through search engines, he said, but many Asian tourists rely on the more traditional method of travel agents.
“With Americans, you throw a million words at it and get to the top of Google search results,” Mr. Humphries said. “But in Asia you have to do it differently and really work with the travel agents.”
Whether the tourists come from Europe or Asia, many fall in love with Koh Rong Samloeun Island, which is more peaceful and pristine than its neighbor Koh Rong, Mr. Chhon said. “Koh Rong is much more noisy,” he said, “But when people get off the boats here, they say, ‘Wow, paradise!’”

Source: Khmer Times

Photo by mediaexpression

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