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Tourism Seen as Uneven, Not Yet an Election Issue

[Editor's note: In the weeks leading into national polls, VOA Khmer will explore a wide number of election issues. The "Election Issues 2008" series will air stories on Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by a related "Hello VOA" guest on Thursday. This is the first in a two-part series examining the tourism boom.]

Cambodia’s tourism industry has seen an 18 percent jump since last year. More than 2 million people visited in 2007, bringing in more than $1 billion and creating as many as 250,000 jobs.

But the benefits are not balanced, and not even some families living close to Angkor Wat are reaping the rewards. It remains an open question how one boon to the economy will play out in July’s national election.

“Most tourism runs to Siem Reap, but not to other provinces,” said Pat Sambo, president of the Association of Tourist Services. “This means that the distribution of revenue from the tourism sector is not equal for everyone.”

Tourism is the second-leading industry in the country, behind garment exports, and a great bulk of it is supported by the Angkor temples.

Yet only 20 percent of the people in Siem Reap, at most, earn any money from toursim, Pat Sambo said.

“Even though some people live near the tourist sight, they don’t have any skills, so they cannot get any benefit,” said Koy Sang, director of Siem Reap’s department for the Ministry of Tourism.

With the benefit of tourism unequally spread, the Cambodian government must do more to prepare other destinations, and direct tourists there, said Moeung Son, president of the Eurasia Travel Agency.

But the need for more tourism development does not seem to be a political issue yet. No parties have put much tourism into their pre-campaign rhetoric, many voters saying they are concerned with inflation over voting.

Meanwhile, observers say with the swift growth of the industry, the number of people who work directly in the tourism industry may even be less inclined to vote, as they are preoccupied earning money each day.