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Monday, February 28, 2011

Vietnam in Cambodia tourism push

A man-made mountain at a resort managed by Dai Nam Resorts Area, in Binh Duong province, Vietnam. The company is looking to attract more Cambodian visitors to its attractions. A company official said 5 million people visited the site last year


Vietnamese tourism companies are linking up with Kingdom firms in order to attract Cambodian tourists to the country’s resorts and health care facilities, whilst boosting cross-border visitors.

During 2010, while the numbers of Vietnamese tourists arriving in Cambodia surged by 48 percent to 466,695 compared with 2009, some businesses within Vietnam also spotted an opportunity for growth by forging new alliances.

One such company was state-run Vietravel Co, valued at US$76 million last year, which now holds 49 percent in a joint venture called Indochina Heritage Travel (Cambodia) with Cambodian and Vietnamese partners.

While its capital investment in the new company has not been detailed, after opening two months ago, it plans to lead 100,000 Vietnamese tourists to the Kingdom during 2011 and to promote cross-border tourism.

Nguyen Quoc Ky, general director of Vietravel Co, said: “I feel confident about tourism sector growth in Cambodia, that’s why I decided to put capital forward.”

While Tran Duc Hai, director of Indochina Heritage Travel (Cambodia), added: “We try to promote tourism for both countries and will bring tourists to both sides.”

Monthly package tours are on the venture’s agenda, with trips tailored to the health tourism market also planned.

Cambodia’s Minister of Tourism, Thong Khon, acknowledged today that Cambodian citizens visit Vietnam for health consultations and treatment and that at the moment “Vietnam is trying a lot to promote tourism in Cambodia”.

While the ministry did not have specific visitor data for Vietnam, he stated: “We have a strong relationship and cooperate together on tourism for both sides benefit.”

In Vietnam, health care providers are hoping to tap into a potential market of Cambodian nationals.

Chief operation officer of Victoria Healthcare VietNam, Binh Pham Cobb, said her private clinic in Ho Chi Minh City received 200 patients a day, some of whom came from Cambodia.

“We saw that Cambodian patients came to check their health a lot at the state hospital in Vietnam.”

Through cooperation with firms such as Indochina Heritage she hopes to “get more and more Cambodian clients to come here”.

While 25-year-old Cambodian tourist Sout Vanny, a visitor to Dam Sen theme park in Vietnam, said that while on holiday she had a health consultation as “services in Vietnam are cheaper that Cambodia and they also make me confident”.

But along with health care demand, vacationing tourists are also boosting trade for Vietnam’s holiday resorts, according to businessmen.

Hoafng Van Ba, deputy general director of Saigontourist, the parent company of Dam Sen Resort in Ho Chi Minh City, said that 5 percent of visitors to his resort – which includes a theme park – were now Cambodian.

It has incorporated Cambodia into its future, as the company has plans to build a similar complex in the Kingdom with negotiations with its Cambodian partner underway.

Dai Nam Resorts Areas, the biggest resort in Vietnam which lies on 450 hectares of land in Binh Duong province, is also looking for Cambodian visitors. Tran Thanh Hai, director of its parent company Dai Nam Joint Stock Corp, said: “Last year, 5 million tourists came to our resort, most of them were local tourists. Now, we are promoting ourselves to neighbouring countries, especially Cambodia.”

According to the Ministry of Tourism, outbound Cambodian tourists increased by about 49 percent in 2010.
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China's growth is changing Southeast Asia

BANGKOK -- What has China got to do with recent bloody clashes over a 900-year-old temple in Southeast Asia?

Beijing is not a party to the conflict, nor has it any stake in the territorial dispute between Cambodia and Thailand.

And yet China, with its growing presence and influence in Indochina, is changing the power dynamics in the region.

One key result has been the weakening of Thailand's traditional economic domination in the neighborhood as China steps up trade and investment in countries of the Greater Mekong Subregion, which besides Thailand includes Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia.

With Cambodia less reliant on the Thai growth engine, its Prime Minister, Hun Sen, has become emboldened to put up a tough fight against Thailand in its border dispute, some analysts say. The border clashes early this month left at least three Thais and eight Cambodians dead.

Given its proximity and long-standing ties, Thailand no doubt still plays a big role in Cambodia's economy. Two-way trade last year was valued at about 81 billion baht (US$2.63 billion), up 20 percent from the previous year. Thai businessmen have over 80 projects worth over US$363 million in the country.

But the Chinese presence in Cambodia has grown rapidly in recent years. In a paper last December, Australian academic Geoff Wade, currently with Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), noted that there were 360 Chinese investment projects in Cambodia totaling US$80 billion by the middle of last year.

China recently waived US$400 million worth of Cambodian debt. One of the largest Chinese-language schools in Southeast Asia is located in Phnom Penh. China also provides much of the Cambodian army's equipment, say observers who have seen Cambodia's military deployments at the disputed Preah Vihear temple site.

In turn, Cambodia has cooperated with Beijing politically, sending 20 ethnic Uighur asylum seekers back to China in 2009, for instance.

Thai historian Thongchai Winichakul, in a recent talk in Bangkok, noted China's neutrality on the Thai-Cambodia conflict, but acknowledged that “Cambodia is less dependent on Thailand than the Thais think.”

At one time during the booming 1980s, Bangkok was the “logical center” of the region, says Professor Michael Montesano of ISEAS.

Now, “Cambodia certainly, and Laos to a degree, have other options. Cambodia is more sophisticated now; they can pick and choose. In addition to China, with its huge demand and ability to penetrate markets, Singapore also comes into play.”
Cambodia also has strong economic ties with Vietnam as well as other countries like South Korea and Japan as it forges ahead with its growing network of international linkages.

China's rising profile in Indochina is not restricted to Cambodia. It is the same in Laos, where it has stepped up investments in agriculture and infrastructure.

Its investment in infrastructure in Myanmar includes laying strategic gas and oil pipelines and port development. The Myanmar-language Weekly Eleven reported recently that China poured more than US$3 billion into the country from last November through January this year, bringing its cumulative investment since 1988 to US$9.6 billion, above Thailand's US$9.56 billion.

As for Thailand, its officials have described their country's relationship with China as one between siblings. Bangkok is also positioning itself as a partner to China in the hopes of mutually benefiting from its growth. One example is the 45 billion baht China City trading complex on the outskirts of Bangkok.

When completed in two years, thousands of Chinese traders will operate from there, re-exporting Chinese-made goods from Thailand to avoid costly tariffs. The trading center is expected to create an estimated 70,000 new jobs.

“The economic might of China imposes a compelling calculation,” said an Asian diplomat of its burgeoning ties in mainland Southeast Asia. “With all these countries, because of proximity and land links, it is very difficult to ignore China.”

But that is not to say there are no limits to China's influence.

In Thailand, the Chinese community has for generations been seamlessly integrated into the rest of Thai society. But in Myanmar, distrust of China among the older intellectual and military elites remains, and Myanmar nationalism will be a brake on Chinese influence.

And there is competition too. American officials have been open about the fact that the recent re-engagement of the United States, in the shape of a development initiative for lower Mekong countries, is an attempt to balance China's surging economic influence.

Vietnam too has its own ambitions in the neighborhood, along with historical baggage, having fought a ferocious border war with China in 1979.

“They can't ignore China. But because of their status as a new tiger and with a more self-confident and outward-oriented approach, Vietnamese officials often speak against China on issues,” said the Asian diplomat.
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Cambodia beckons for midwifery chief

A MIDWIFERY boss is stepping down to carry out volunteer work in a poverty-stricken country.

Angela Oxley, head of obstetrics and gynaecology at Furness General Hospital, is leaving her post to work on improving maternity services in a hospital in Cambodia for two years.

Mrs Oxley, who also works across other hospitals within the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, will be based in Stung Treng hospital in northern Cambodia as part of a programme run by the Voluntary Services Overseas charity.

The hospital is staffed by a medical director and team of midwives, but they do not receive regular wages and must work in the markets to earn money.

In the province of Stung Treng, there are eight small clinics where births take place with only a basic qualified midwife or traditional birth attendant present. Part of Mrs Oxley’s work will involve reviewing care in these clinics and trying to improve training and referrals.

Mrs Oxley, who has 20 years’ experience working as a midwife in Cumbria, said: “I’m going out there to see what improvements can be made with a limited staff and budget.

“It will be a huge challenge, I know, but the idea is not for me just to go out there, work as a midwife and come back two years later with nothing changed.

“My colleagues at FGH have been really positive. A lot have said they could never do it, but I also hope it will encourage more people to go out there and do it.”

VSO in Cambodia has an overall aim of reducing infant and maternal mortality rates in line with the United Nations and World Health Organisation. The current maternal mortality rate is one in 260, compared with one in 12,000 in the UK.

Many of these deaths occur in the rural areas, where women often have no access to trained staff.

The VSO funds Mrs Oxley’s travel to Cambodia and her return in two years, but while she is living in the country she will be paid a basic wage of £240 a month and be expected to raise funds for the project.

Mrs Oxley will be joined by her husband Chris on the trip, who is also hoping to carry out volunteer work.

She said: “He is coming over with me to share the experience, but he is funding himself. He has done a qualification in teaching English as a foreign language and he has a background in engineering.”

The couple will keep a blog of their trip, which can be viewed at www.angelaandchriscambodia.blogspot.com.
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