BANGKOK (AFP) — About a thousand Thais have cancelled visits to Cambodia’s famous Angkor Wat ruins since an ownership dispute erupted between the two neighbours over another temple, a tourism chief said Saturday.
The mass cancellations began last week at the height of a disagreement over the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, said the president of the Thai Tourism Promotion Association Songsak Sriklueb.
Thai nationalist protests forced the government last week to retract its support for Cambodia’s successful application to list the temple as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as its entrance lies within its borders.
No violence against Thais has been reported in Cambodia since the dispute began, though the Preah Vihear temple was temporarily closed two weeks ago after 100 Thai protesters tried to march there.
“Our 12 tour operators told me last week that at least 1,000 people have cancelled their trips. Their main reason was security concerns. Thai tourists are not taking the risk,” Songsak said.
“Some wanted to postpone their trips until later this year which has caused problems for the tour operators,” he said.
Songsak said the Thai tourism industry had already been hit hard by soaring fuel prices, inflation and domestic political tensions.
Thailand’s immigration authorities reported nearly 36,000 Thai tourists visited Cambodia last year. The country receives about two million tourists annually.
The ancient Khmer temple Angkor Wat is the main tourist attraction in Siem Reap, just 120 kilometers from Thailand’s eastern border.
In 2003, similar nationalist sentiments inflamed tensions between the Asian neighbours after rumours circulated in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh that a famous Thai actress had claimed Angkor Wat belonged to Thailand.
Thousands of angry Cambodian protesters set fire to the Thai embassy and destroyed Thai businesses while hundreds of Thais were airlifted from the Cambodian capital to escape mob attacks.