Ministry Considers Illuminating Angkor Temples as Tourist Numbers Drop

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Visitors at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap province (VOD)
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UPDATED 3:45 p.m. — The Tourism Ministry is considering new initiatives to draw visitors to the Angkor temple complex, including lighting up the world-famous Angkor Wat at night, in response to declining ticket sales at the park, officials said.

The “Angkor Night” project, which could see the Unesco World Heritage-listed Angkor Wat and other temples illuminated at night as a way to attract more tourists, is among the more than 20 possible initiatives to address — in the short-term — the issue of fewer tourists visiting Siem Reap province, said ministry spokesman Aing Sovannroath.

“At night time, most of the [tourism] activities happen only in Siem Reap City. But our temple areas are quiet,” Sovannroath said.

Officials suggested looking into the possibility of offering an after-dark temple attraction during an inter-ministerial meeting in Siem Reap on Monday that focused on preparing a long-term tourism master plan for the development of Angkor Archaeological Park, he said.

“But it is necessary that we take into account the safety of both the guests and the safety of the temples themselves,” Sovannroath added.

The idea for night-time lighting for Angkor has been floated before, including during a previous tourist slump in 2009, sparking debate about light installations affecting the heritage site’s ambiance and potentially causing damage.

The number of Angkor park visitors from January to August this year was more than 1.5 million — down 11 percent compared to the same eight-month period last year, according to data from state-owned Angkor Enterprise, which manages the park’s ticket sales.

Ticket revenues also decreased nearly 12 percent compared to last year in the same period.

According to a post on the Tourism Ministry’s Facebook page, the ministry plans to prioritize tourism development in the area at the Angkor temples, Kulen mountain, Tonle Sap lake and a satellite city planned to be built 60 km outside Siem Reap City.

Sovannroath said the inter-ministerial commission intended to finish its short-term tourism plans by early next year, while long-term strategies to increase the number of tourists to Siem Reap were expected to be finalized by 2035.

Chhay Sivlin, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, welcomed the commission’s initiative, adding that foreign tourists wanted to visit attractions both day and night, but Siem Reap was short of places for after-dark sightseeing.

The Tourism Ministry should also prepare self-guided attractions for guests to sightsee without tour guides, and push to increase the quality of local souvenirs, Sivlin said.

“We want to attract more visitors to tour around by themselves,” she said.

Tourism Minister Thorng Khon said in an interview with television station CNC, which was posted on the ministry’s Facebook page on Monday, that the trade war between China and the U.S. and sales of poor-quality souvenirs had contributed to fewer international tourists visiting Siem Reap.

About a third of the 6.2 million international tourists who visited Cambodia last year were from China, according to ministry figures. Chinese arrivals rose 67 percent, from 1.2 million in 2017 to more than 2 million last year.

But fewer Chinese tourists were traveling abroad, including to Cambodia, Khon said.

While tourists typically spend 25 percent of their trip budget on souvenirs, those peddling cheap keepsakes were affecting whether tourists visit Cambodia, as well as national prestige, he added.

“All related parties and all vendors, if you love the country, just stop,” Khon told CNC. “If you all keep doing this, you will face legal action because we have a new law; it is the law to protect consumers. If you still keep doing this, you will be imprisoned and be punished by the law.”

The ministry this week is also promoting “Equinox Angkor,” a tourist-attracting phenomenon in which the sun appears above the central tower of Angkor Wat twice a year, with a selfie photo contest that includes cash prizes of $125 to $250 for the best “Angkor Wonder Selfie,” state media outlet AKP reported on Wednesday.

The solar photo-op event is predicted to occur between Friday and Saturday from 5 to 7 a.m. and also occurs in March each year.

Correction: The article originally stated that an inter-ministerial commission aimed to finalize its long-term tourism development plan for Siem Reap by 2023. The target is 2035.

(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)

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