Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Rogue tour operators face govt crackdown

Written by Ngoun Sovan
Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The minister of tourism says that unlicensed travel agencies have until the end of January to register with the government and pay up or face closure.
Photo by: Heng Chivoan
A travel agent in Phnom Penh. The government hopes to clean up the tourism industry by shutting down unregistered operators.

TOURISM officials are set to launch a crackdown on unlicensed travel agents after issuing repeated calls for tighter regulation of the sector, said the tourism minister.

The ruling could see 12 percent of the Kingdom's 200 travel agencies shut down the end of the month, according to ministry figures.

"Twenty-two of Cambodia's 200 travel companies are operating without licences," Thong Khon, minister of tourism, told the Post Tuesday.

The Ministry has been working to upgrade the country's hotels and travel agencies by introducing industry standards. The minister said the ministry sent warning letters on January 12 saying that companies have until January 31 to register or face legal action.

"After the deadline at month's end, we will invite them one by one to license their companies," said Thong Khon.

"If they still fail to apply for a licence, we will shut them down."

Last warning
The minister said that the offending travel agencies have already been warned to register.

"To get a licence for a travel agent, the law requires that the operator deposits US$5,000 at the National Bank of Cambodia, just in case something happens. It is for the benefit of guests. If they are not made to do this, the agents might abandon guests that have made reservations," he said.

He assured the agencies that the government will not steal the money held by the national bank.

"The deposit still belongs to them, not us. It is to ensure that they have the funds available for their customers," said Thong Khon.

Ho Vandy, president of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents (CATA), told the Post Tuesday that its 171 members back the ministry action.

He said that CATA has complained to the tourism ministry for several years regarding legal action against unlicensed tour operators.

"There is no transparency in the market. We have licences, we comply with the law and pay the tax. [Unlicensed agencies] are not following the rules, so they do not pay tax - it is unfair competition," he said.

One owner of an unlicensed travel agency in Daun Penh district said that the government's reserve requirement is too high. "If I have to pay the money, I will go out of business. I am already losing every month, and sometimes there is often no money to pay the staff. I cannot afford to deposit $5,000 for the licence," said Chhoeun Marany, the owner of Rany Travel Agency.

She said that she plans to shut down at the end of the month when the ruling comes into force.


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