Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Laos, Cambodia firm up investment, tourism ties

HENG CHIVOAN; Members of a business delegation from Laos pose for a photo in Phnom Penh during a swing through the region.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong
Monday, 01 September 2008

Officials from both countries expect new international checkpoints will help improve relations by expanding cross-border tourism and trade

CAMBODIA and Laos have agreed to open two new international checkpoints in an effort to boost tourism, trade and investment opportunities, officials from both countries told the Post.

The checkpoints will be located along the border between Cambodia's Strung Treng province and Champassak province in Laos, and between Ratanakkiri province and Laos' Attapeu province, said Sonexay Siphandone, governor of Champassak province.

"We are preparing for two international gateways in areas where we currently have few border administration offices," Sonexay said during an interview at the Laotian embassy in Phnom Penh.

He said both countries will build new terminals, border police offices and facilities for all related authorities.

The Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam (CLV) program is pushing for expanded service sector cooperation between Cambodian and Laos by making it easier for tourist and commercial vehicles to cross the border.

"In the future, we will build a modern international gateway for tourism, trade and investment," said Sonexay, who recently led a 90-member delegation on a caravan tour from Laos through Siem Reap and Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City and back to Laos - a trip covering more than 2,200 kilometres.

" The more international border crossings open, the more trade will increase. "

The tour aimed to strengthen relationships and exchange experiences, as well as to explore agricultural trade opportunities, the Laotian governor said.

"We've never tried to organise a proper exchange program like this before, but now we're paving the way for greater development."

Road links between Cambodia and Laos have improved in recent years with the linking of National Road 17 in Stung Treng and Laos' National Road 13 in Champassak.

"We are urging investors, traders and companies to forge stronger business relationships," Sonexay said. "We bring tourists from Cambodia to Vientiane and Luang Prabang."

Cambodia and Laos currently allow tourists and residents with automobiles to cross each others' borders visa-free.

"We have provided easy access between the countries," he said, adding that trade relations will improve once additional agreements are implemented. "The more international border crossings open, the more trade will increase."

Om Pharin, vice president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA), said his organisation, which includes 166 travel agencies, is interested in promoting package tour sales for local residents and foreign travellers going to Laos.

"We have waited many years for this kind of opportunity, and now we have the infrastructure to support it," Om Pharin said.

He said both nations should add more international checkpoints and encouraged authorities to improve their service sectors with more hotels, guesthouses and other tourist-related services.

The CLV and Cambodia-Thailand-Laos (CTL) program development zones will be key to future agreements across the region, Om Pharin said.

New financial ties are also in the works. In Channy, the CEO of Acleda Bank, which recently opened three new branches in Laos, said there is considerable room for growth in the banking and business sectors, and that growth would be linked to improvements in tourism services and transport infrastructure.

Trade revenue between Cambodia and Laos currently stands at only about US$1 million, but the tourism sector could bolster this number significantly in the future, according to a commerce official.

Kong Sophearak, director of the Statistics and Tourism Department of the Ministry of Tourism, said Laotian visitors to Cambodia have sharply increased this year. In the first seven months of 2008, some 27,161 tourists visited Cambodia from Laos, an increase of more than 167 percent over the same period last year, when that number was 10,144.

"I think improvements to road access between the two countries and an increase in the availability of tour packages are the main reasons for the spike in tourism," Kong Sophearak said.

Tourism remains one of the Kingdom's few viable industries, with two million visitors bringing in more than $1 billion last year.

The government hopes to attract three million people annually by 2010.

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