The last-minute implementation of a US$2 environmental tax on visitors taking boat trips from Sihanoukville to outlying islands has been met with criticism from the Cambodian trade.
Government officials gave just three days’ notice ahead of the tax’s initial roll-out on August 10, but within a few days of implementation it was postponed until October 1 to give the authorities more time to organise a structure.
While officials say the tax levied will be used to protect the environment as development gains pace rapidly off the coast, many tour operators were left footing hefty bills and offering explanation to their clients.
Pierre-Andre Romano, general manager of Exo Travel Cambodia, said the short notice means the company had to cover the extra costs for all confirmed bookings, brochure products and group series, extending to thousands of clients.
“We’ll lose quite a significant amount of money this year because of these short notices,” said Romano, referring also to the last-minute hike of ticket prices to Angkor Wat Archeological Park, the National Museum, Toul Sleng and the Royal Palace in recent months.
Miles Gravett, manager of Khiri Cambodia, commented: “It’s always a challenge when unilateral decisions that affect our bottom line are made with little to no notice.”
Another concern is the collection of the fee, currently not included in ticket prices. Visitors instead hand over cash to officials at the pier.
Gravett said: “Two dollars is not the end of the world but an inconvenience; no one likes to feel they are being taken advantage of, which could be the case if this policy is not clearly communicated and transparently implemented.”
However, if used correctly, taking action to protect and conserve the marine environment is essential. Hopes are high that waste management programmes will be improved, educational initiatives rolled out and aggressive anti-litter campaigns enforced.
“This is absolutely crucial for the future of the (Cambodian) mainland as a tourist destination,” said Mick Spencer, owner of ANA Travel in Sihanoukville.