Business travel shows way for Cambodia boom

BUSINESS travellers from China and Taiwan are travelling to Cambodia, via Hongkong, in large numbers to take advantage of business opportunities opening up in the country.

Cambodia travel specialist William Lau, general manager of Marvel Tours, said a major attraction to the businessmen had been the many opportunities to buy land for investment.

At present there are no direct flights from Hongkong to the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, and Marvel Tours has been the sole travel agent in Hongkong arranging bookings to Phnom Penh via Bangkok, using Cambodia International and Kampuchea Airlines on seven flights a week.

According to Mr Lau, bookings for the flights are mostly full.

However, while business travel has boomed, on the tourism side bookings have fallen to near zero following the violence leading up to the recent elections.

''The Americans, Europeans and Japanese have stopped their bookings. The Japanese even cancelled their advance bookings for December when a Japanese UN worker was killed prior to the elections,'' he said.

However, this could change shortly as Hongkong's Dragonair begins its long-awaited flights to Phnom Penh on August 3.

The carrier initially had planned to launch the twice-weekly service on May 18 but the plan was delayed following the outbreak of violence ahead of the United Nations-sponsored elections from May 23 to 28.

With the elections over, Dragonair is now ready to start its service.

Despite continuing problems in the country, chief operating officer Simon Heale said there were no doubts about the viability of the operation.

''We have always wanted to fly there and we have now laid plans to fly to Phnom Penh starting on August 3,'' he said.

The airline will fly to the Cambodian capital every Tuesday and Friday, using Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 aircraft.

Mr Heale said the airline planned to use only Airbus A320s on the route later this year.

He said the airline was optimistic of a good market because ''businessmen will travel there in the light of what has happened after the elections''.

''We expect the number of tourists visiting the country to grow too,'' Mr Heale said. ''Cambodians who have resettled in America, with the majority of them living on the West Coast, are also expected to return to visit the country.

''We are making our plans to tap that market.'' At present, the leaders of Cambodia's two main parties have agreed to share power in an interim administration to run the country until a constitution can be written.