SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia, 1 July 2019: While earthmovers clear the debris following the deadly collapse of a hotel building, last week, here in this coastal port town, tourism officials are saying the tragedy will not cause a decline in tourists.
The death toll rose of 28 people including a child and activists are calling for a halt on hotel construction especially those being built on encroached beach land.
They claim properties are flouting building codes and are accusing officials of corrupt dealings in approving building permits that encroach on public beaches.
Last week’s collapse of the seven-storey Chinese-owned hotel project in Sihanoukville has led to an unprecedented outpouring of criticism though predictably the tourism industry says business will continue and more hotels will be built.
Some properties standing on beaches don’t deserve to prosper, as they stand accused of flouting safety rules and encroaching on beaches exploiting ambiguities or loopholes in the law on where the public beach ends and where private properties begin.
Sihanoukville driven by lucrative gambling revenue from close to 20 casinos has seen a boom in the construction of high-rise hotels, casinos, commercial centres, condos and apartments. Many of them are partly owned and financed by Chinese investors.
Ministry of Tourism spokesman Top Sopheak told The Phnom Penh Post last week that the collapse of the Sihanoukville hotel would not hurt the confidence of foreign tourists.
Critics called that wishful thinking a hallmark of a tourism industry that thinks of nothing but financial gain and often at the expense of local communities.
He said the Ministry of Tourism is working hard to attract more foreign tourists to travel for pleasure in Cambodia.
Pacific Asia Travel Association president, Thourn Sinan, jumped into the controversy supporting Sopheak’s comments, even though his comments might not reflect the official view of the PATA head office.
The comments are tactless and inappropriate considering the loss of life and the plight of grieving families while omitting to comment on the need to make hotel stays safer.
“It will not affect the tourism sector in Cambodia, especially in Preah Sihanouk province,” he told the Phnom Penh Post, adding that the incident could be attributed to a lack of government oversight and accountability.
“However, all major cities in the world, which have developed as strongly as Sihanoukville always have these problems and a lack of law enforcement,” he told the Post.
But the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents’ adviser Hor Vandy did appear to be more guarded in his statement saying the psychological impact on tourists, especially Chinese tourists – who have a large presence in Preah Sihanouk province.
“A fear of staying in short- and long-term residencies has definitely been instilled in tourists and other visitors,” Vandy noted.
(Source: Phnom Penh Post)