New CATA President Ang Kim Eang discusses prospects for travel industry in challenging times
As new president of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents (CATA), what strategy do you have to lead this association?
I have nine points that I want to focus on, but I'd like to start with the first three.
First, I will press for training for members of the association.
Second, I plan to cooperate with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to urge CATA members to sell packages abroad to boost foreign travel here.
Finally, I want to strengthen our administrative capabilities within the organisation itself.
What made you decide to register as a presidential candidate?
I have been involved with CATA since 1996.
I started out as an employee at a travel agency, and my boss was president at that time.
I understand the importance of this association.
In 2003, I started up my own company and joined as a CATA member. The association has played an important role in serving its members and representing them with the government .... The previous mandate was a success.
For example, in 2007, the government levied a two percent tax on accommodation, but CATA challenged it and succeeded in delaying implentation. We have also challenged a private company that wanted to sell plastic sandals to foreign tourists at Ankgor Wat.
I remember that under the last mandate, CATA successfully urged the National Bank of Cambodia to pay interest on travel agents' deposits held in the bank.
Recently, the Minister of Tourism Thong Khon said he would crack down on unlicensed travel agents. Is that a good idea?
We have been urging the Ministry of Tourism to take this action, so we welcome the decision.
It is unfair for us to have to continue to compete with illegal businesses that do not pay tax.
We pay taxes and obey the laws and we want a level playing field. Travel agents that have no licenses are earning a lot of profit, and they are selling low-quality products to tourists.
In the long run, illegal operators will damage the reputation of the Cambodian travel industry.
How should the country be attracting foreign tourists given the recent economic downturn?
Asean recently held a summit in Hanoi where members pushed for a cut in the price of package tours and measures to improve services. Between 50 and 70 percent of total tourism spending is on accommodation, so we will try to speak to hotel owners and encourage them to reduce their prices.
Lower cost hotel accommodation will help attract regional travellers, especially Chinese and Korean.
How important is the domestic market compared to international tourism?
I agree with Tourism Minister Thong Khon that we should encourage domestic travellers to travel inside Cambodia and spend money locally instead of abroad. It is important that Khmer people travel to see all domestic tourism sites and resorts we have to offer before heading overseas .... We should travel in Cambodia first before flying elsewhere. Local travel is a key part of rejuvenating the tourism industry today.
When Ho Vandy was president of CATA, he urged the government to establish a national airline. Will you be pressing for this as well?
In order to increase the number of foreign tourists, we have to have a national carrier. I will continue to urge the government to establish a national airline. Tourists in the new millennium do not wish to spend months travelling by cruise ship, they don't have the time.
They love to travel by air. If we do manage to have a national carrier, it will be much easier to promote Cambodia.
What have you promised to your members who elected you to be new president?
I promised to cooperate with members while working to benefit them all. I will lead the association with transparency and fair play.