H.E. Mr. Francesco Frangialli, Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organisation;
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today, I am very pleased to participate in this Forty-First Meeting of the WTO Commission for East Asia and the Pacific and the Technical Seminar on Cultural Tourism and Poverty Alleviation.
On behalf of the Royal Government and people of Cambodia, may I extend my warmest welcome to all Your Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates and Guests from many countries in this significant international gathering on the wonderful land of Angkor, the Kingdom of Cambodia.
I am delighted to meet H.E. Francesco Frangialli for the second time since the International Conference on Cultural Tourism, first held in Siem Reap in late 2000. May I also express my appreciation to Mr. Frangialli and his colleagues of the WTO who have exerted strong leadership in promoting mutual understanding, encouraging sustainable tourism development and thereby helping us all realize these shared goals.
May I also express my congratulations to the United Nations for recognizing the World Tourism Organisation as a Specialised Agency of the UN since 23 December 2003.
This recognition provides the WTO with further momentum to collaborate more intensively with the UN family. It also manifests the importance of tourism development, upheld by the international community, particularly the sector’s contribution to poverty alleviation, development, conservation of cultural heritage, environmental protection, strengthening of peace and mutual understanding among all nations. Indeed, the WTO’s status as a specialised agency of the UN provides it not only with legitimacy in economic development cooperation, but it also attests to the significant role of tourism toward the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
Asia is rich with diverse cultural heritages. In particular, Cambodia has many cultural and historical sites dating thousands of years back to our ancestors, the most prominent of which are the unique Angkor temples that are the greatest products of Khmer architecture, sculpture and history. During the Angkor era, Cambodia reached its peak as a civilized nation. At that time, we employed the most modern technologies in construction, architecture, urban management, agriculture and other infrastructures. In the City of Angkor, the people, forests and temples co-existed in harmony, peace and prosperity. Even today, all who are fortunate to visit and gaze upon the Angkor monuments fall under their spell of beauty, mystery and greatness, and are forever held in thrall.
At the same time, Cambodia also has many other natural, recreational and eco-tourism sites, which we are working hard to further develop into wonderful tourism venues. These include geographic sites rich in unique cultural and natural attractions. Based on this favourable condition, the Royal Government has determined the policy of tourism development of Cambodia as a “Cultural and Natural Tourism” destination.
The Royal Government keenly appreciates the enormous potentials for tourism’s contribution to Cambodia’s socio-economic development. The Government also shares in the global recognition of tourism as a unique mechanism for trade and communication, which contributes broadly to national revenues, job creation, and improvement of living standards. Moreover, cultures, traditions and national reputations are promoted worldwide through tourism, impacting on regional and international understanding, cooperation and peace.
It is, therefore, not by accident that the Royal Government of Cambodia considers tourism as one of the six priority thrusts in its strategy to promote economic growth and poverty reduction.
Tourism has been crucial to Cambodia’s growth. In 1998-2002, the sector grew steadily, by 25%-30% annually. Unfortunately, in 2003 Cambodia’s tourism sector was adversely affected by the outbreak of SARS in the region, while Cambodia itself was not affected. In 2003 visitor arrivals to Cambodia fell by 10%, lower that the fall across ASEAN of an average of 14%.
The tourism sector demonstrated its resiliency by its speedy recovery from the SARS outbreak. The collaboration and coordination among the Heads of Governments in the region, the World Tourism Organisation, World Health Organization and other international development partners promoted the rapid recovery of tourism. In Cambodia, in the first four months of 2004, international arrivals have increased 29.62% if compared to 2003!
The Royal Government of Cambodia clearly recognizes that physical infrastructures, including roads, water, electricity, telecommunications and other services are crucial to significant and sustained growth not only of the tourism sector but the economy as a whole.
Due to the growth of tourism, Siem Reap has remarkably developed its infrastructure, including the airport, roads, traffic facilities, power, hotels, restaurants and recreational facilities. Indeed, tourism has promoted the development of all socio-economic sectors of the province, with linkages to and positive impacts on surrounding and other priority tourism destinations.
The Royal Government of Cambodia has exerted efforts to attract more tourists to the Angkor Zone, while at the same time protecting and conserving the Angkor for sustainable development. The Royal Government has formed the APSARA Authority as a Special Authority to protect and conserve the Angkor cultural area. Efforts of the APSARA, in collaboration with the UNESCO and other international partners have moved beyond the rescue stage into a new era of conservation and development.
The Royal Government is monitoring all developments in the Angkor area to keep track of both positive as well as negative impacts, and to facilitate corrective measures. A master plan for the development of the Angkor area has been formulated with worldwide assistance and is now under implementation in terms of projects such as water and electricity supply, wastewater management and other infrastructures all toward the goal of preserving and developing the area into a sustainable cultural tourism destination that we can all be proud of.
The Royal Government of Cambodia is also focusing on the development of the areas surrounding the Angkor, particularly linked to the tourism, cultural and natural destinations of neighbouring countries such as Thailand and Lao PDR. The most important joint initiative between Cambodia, Lao PDR and Thailand is the Emerald Triangle Development Program. In this regard, I thank the World Tourism Organization for its conduct of appraisal on the Emerald Triangle Development Program.
It is an honour for the Kingdom of Cambodia to be elected as Chair of the East Asia and the Pacific Commission of WTO for the 2004-2005 mandate. I appreciate the results of the 41st Meeting of the WTO Commission for East Asia and the Pacific, which discussed the details of the regional programs, including the preparation, implementation and evaluation for general programs of work, the implementation of the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, the Emerald Triangle Tourism Development (Cambodia-Lao PDR-Thailand) Program and the Heritage Necklace Project initiated by Thailand.
I am convinced that the Seminar on Cultural Tourism and Poverty Alleviation today will examine ways in which cultural tourism can be channelled effectively to achieve poverty alleviation in Cambodia and Asia. Indeed, we should identify policies that governments may adopt to increase their share of the cultural tourism market and increase the contribution of tourism to poverty alleviation. Moreover, we should define the roles that local authorities can play in cultural tourism management to ensure that socio-economic benefits are fairly distributed among the local poor.
With our strong commitment to achievement of the Cambodia Millennium Development Goals, the Royal Government of Cambodia has launched its 2003-2005 Cambodia National Poverty Reduction Strategy and set up the Tourism Poverty Alleviation Working Group chaired by the Ministry of Tourism. Such coordination will help ensure that poverty alleviation is always at the forefront of our activities, including our tourism development efforts.
After this meeting, tomorrow you will tour the Angkor Wat monuments. The temples will offer you many rewards from our heritage and ancient civilisation. We hope that during your brief stay in the Kingdom, you will appreciate that while Cambodia has a rich heritage; our nation is firmly moving forward into a brighter future, with hope and confidence in our own strong capability and commitment.
May I extend to Your Excellency Francesco Frangialli and all Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen my wishes for success in all your endeavours, good health and a pleasant and enjoyable stay in Cambodia!