Volcanic ash cloud impacts Cambodia's hotel bookings

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Flights are set to resume, but local hotels lost up to 15 percent of customers
The Phnom Penh Post
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Smoke billows from a volcano in Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland on April 16, 2010, sending an ash cloud sweeping across northern Europe. AFP
THE giant volcanic ash cloud which caused travel chaos throughout the world reduced hotel bookings in Cambodia by between 10 and 15 percent, Tourism Minister Thong Khon and the Cambodian Hotel Association said Wednesday.

As some flights from Asia resumed Wednesday after a six-day lock down on air travel to and from northern Europe, the Kingdom is counting the cost of the eruption from Iceland’s Eyjafjallaj√∂kull volcano – which began on April 14 and thrust vast plumes of potentially dangerous ash into the sky.Minister of Tourism Thong Khon told the Post that the ash cloud “really impacted the tourism sector in Cambodia. It impacted some hotel [bookings] by about 10 percent”.

He pointed out that Cambodia has more than 300 hotels and over 20,000 rooms.

The observation has been reiterated by top representatives of the hotel industry. Luu Meng, president of the Cambodian Hotel Association (CHA), said Wednesday: “I estimate about 10 to 15 percent of hotel rooms throughout Cambodia have been cancelled due to the volcanic [ash] cloud.”

Visitors from northern Europe – where the cloud grounded flights for nearly a week – account for a significant percentage of Cambodia’s tourists.

In 2009, according to Ministry of Tourism statistics, 10.87 percent of visitors to Cambodia came from the UK or France. Last year, the tourist sector garnered US$1.561 billion in revenue, according to Director of Statistics and Tourism Kong Sophearak.

Ang Kim Eang, president of Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA), confirmed Wednesday that some tourists from European countries could not get to Cambodia, as airlines cancelled flights because of safety fears. He could not say how many people were affected.

However, the end of the crisis seems to be in sight.

Abdul Karim Md Isa, area manager for Malaysia Airlines' representative office in Cambodia, confirmed that the airline restarted flights to London, Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt Wednesday.

CHA President Luu Meng and Tourism Minister Thong Khon predicted that tourists from European countries would arrive in Cambodia at normal levels within the next ten days.

“I do not worry much [about the impact] because it is just short term,” said Thong Khon.

He added that he did not want such incidents to occur too often this year, as it would put in jeopardy Cambodia’s goal of attracting 2.4 million tourists in 2010.

In the first three months of this year, the number of arrivals increased around 9 percent compared to the first quarter of 2009, he said.

The Association of Asia Pacific Airlines said the region's carriers had bled about $40 million a day during the crisis, AFP reported Wednesday. The International Air Transport Association put global airline losses at about $270 million a day.

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