PHNOM PENH (The Phnom Penh Post/Asia News Network): Preah Sihanouk province has set its sights on underwater tourism, as a new way to lure in national and international tourists, and open an ocean of rich biodiversity and scuba diving experiences to enthusiasts and beginners alike, according to tourism officials and experts.
The coastal ecosystems in the province offer sea beds full of diverse marine life for travellers to visit, the provincial Department of Environment said in a Nov 21 statement that was brightened up with colourful images of underwater flora and fauna and coastal landscapes.
These included photos of diving trips in the Koh Tang archipelago organised by the Khmer Dive Group, displaying gorgeous coral reefs and a variety of colourful fish and other sea life, as well as cook-outs, camping and other forms of merriment.
Provincial Department of Tourism director Taing Sochet Kresna told The Post that the provincial environment department and the Ministry of Environment plan to develop a number of designated areas under their jurisdiction into underwater tourism zones.
Although noting that his department is on board, he said specific development projects would be implemented by the environment agencies.
He underscored that underwater tourism is a new but very important concept for the Kingdom, especially Preah Sihanouk, which he billed as a tourism hotspot fringed by beautiful beaches.
He suggested that the province develop a wide range of tourism products onshore and offshore, especially along the seafloor, which he said boasts high commercial potential and abundant natural resources.
“Conserving biodiversity well, we’ll provide services so that visitors can visit, and make that destination more attractive. They’ll want to drop on in, unwind and stay for a long time, it’ll benefit more people in the tourism business,” Sochet Kresna said.
Cambodia Association of Travel Agents president Chhay Sivlin told The Post on November 22, that the underwater tourism products planned by the government and promoted by the wider community are precisely what the private sector aspires to incorporate into tour packages to entice holidaymakers.
The ocean and the beaches offer viable tourism alternatives to Cambodia’s usual cultural venues, she said, suggesting the Kingdom capitalise on the potential of underwater areas, and embark on the necessary preparations to transform them into a stunning reality.
“We want there to be services that take vacationers to the bottom of the sea, but at the same time, they also need to consider their safety during the underwater transport, to instil confidence in would-be tourists,” Sivlin said.
She noted that travellers to the province would typically hit the beach, sunbathe and then leave after a short stay.
But Sivlin believes that a developed underwater tourism segment with a thriving diving scene and a broad selection of snorkelling trips to view corals and other natural resources would encourage guests to stay longer and spend more.
Preah Sihanouk Provincial Administration reported that 111,322 domestic trips were made to the province’s beaches, islands and resorts during this year’s Water Festival on November 18-20. Cambodians accounted for 105,389 and foreigners 5,933.
On a per-day basis, the number of domestic trips over November 18-20 rose by 116.3 per cent from the second weekend of November – 34,306 from November 13-14 (31,087 Cambodians and 3,219 foreigners), as reported by the ministry.
The number of Cambodian and foreign visitors were also up by 126.0 and 23 per cent.