The Minister of Tourism last week said companies offering ‘zero-dollar’ tour packages are damaging the tourism sector and vowed to take action to protect the industry.
Speaking at a tourism event in Siem Reap province on Sunday, Minister Thong Khon said that low-cost or ‘zero-dollar’ tours bring unsuspecting tourists to businesses in which they are coerced into purchasing expensive goods.
In exchange for bringing in tourists, the tour operators receive large kickbacks from the business, he said.
“This is a problem damaging the country’s reputation. This practice needs to be eradicated,” he said, explaining that the practice makes tourists feel “cheated” and discourages them from visiting the country again.
“Please don’t blame the tourists. Blame the companies that are selling ‘zero-dollar’ tour packages,” Mr Khon said.
“These companies are not thinking about the experience of tourists. They just want to cheat them out of their money by selling them overpriced souvenirs and fake products and providing a very low-quality service, while they get a commission from the businesses,” Mr Khon said, promising to eliminate the practice.
The minister said that some hotels and restaurants had to close because ‘zero-dollar’ tour operators collected money from the customers, but did not give it to them.
Clais Chenda, president of the Cambodia Hotel Association, agreed with the minister’s comments, saying that the country faces a potential decline in tourism activity if companies continue engaging in the practice.
“Tourists should not be cheated. It damages the reputation of our tourism sector. If customers feel cheated, they won’t come back,” Ms Chenda said.
“If you are honest with your guests, they will tell their family and friends about Cambodia and the good service they had here and more people will visit us,” Ms Chenda said.
Chhay Sivlin, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA), also called for an end to the practice.
“There are some tour operators offering ‘zero-dollar’ tours in Cambodia. Fortunately, the practice has declined so far this year due to the warnings of the ministry,” Ms Sivlin said.
CATA, which has nearly 300 travel and tour companies as members, has advised members not to offer ‘zero-dollar’ tour packages.
In the first three months of the year, 1.8 million tourists visited the Kingdom, a 9.7 percent increase compared to the same quarter in 2018.