The Tourism Ministry has started urging businesses and tour operators to accept Chinese yuan notes as part of a drive to attract tourists from China, sparking concern among some business owners who fear losses and fake currency.
The ministry released a new “China Ready” strategy in late May with the aim of attracting 2 million Chinese tourists annually to Cambodia by 2020. According to a copy of the strategy, the ministry will “encourage” businesses that cater to tourists to “make it easy to use” Chinese yuan for payment.
“We have been advising tourism establishments like restaurants, accommodations, entertainment venues and exchange shops to facilitate payments in yuan in order to make it easy for Chinese tourists to spend in our country,” said Hor Sarun, a Tourism Ministry secretary of state, on the sidelines of a workshop at the ministry this week.
In Channy, president and CEO of Acleda Bank, however, said the plan could prove difficult to implement.
“In contrast to the U.S. dollar, which is broadly used in the market, the yuan’s circulation is still limited…. I think the policy is good, but it would face a challenge in the retail market, which depends on the acceptance of the currency,” Mr. Channy said.
Local businesses mostly backed Mr. Channy’s sentiment, saying risks seemed to outweigh potential benefits.
At Phnom Penh’s Sentosa Silk shop, at the heart of the riverside tourist area, manager Khemmara Niza said staff would have no idea whether they were receiving legitimate currency if they allowed customers to pay in yuan.
“To be honest, I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Ms. Niza said. “We don’t really know about yuan money—is it the real one or is it the fake one? We already have problems with fake U.S. money and we can’t fix it.”
A little further south, along a strip marked by guesthouses, massage parlors and signs in Chinese, River Home Boutique Hotel front office supervisor Prak Vichet echoed these concerns.
“A lot of people want to pay with Chinese currency…because they feel like [they’re] at home,” Mr. Vichet said.
But the two-year-old hotel has already had to deal with a $5,000 cash payment of fake U.S. dollars, and exchange rate fluctuations expose the business to the risk of losses, he said.
When guests insist on paying in a foreign currency, the hotel takes up to 15 percent in commission, “because afterward when we bring it to the bank we don’t know what’s the exchange rate.”
But about 95 percent of guests pay for their stay by credit card, making the issue somewhat irrelevant, Mr. Vichet said.
Across the country in Siem Reap City, Sara Wallimann, owner of Haven restaurant, said she also struggled to see the point.
“I don’t think we would do that,” Ms. Wallimann said when asked how she would respond to a government request to start accepting yuan. “I don’t really think that’s necessary.”
Bucking old stereotypes, recent tourists from China have increasingly been independent travelers, knowledgeable about local protocols and prepared to explore unfamiliar environments, she said.
“It’s really changed. You can tell the difference,” Ms. Wallimann said.
Nonetheless, the co-owner of Abacus Garden Restaurant and Bar, a French restaurant also in Siem Reap City, said he was prepared to give the yuan initiative a go if it would attract more Chinese diners.
“Why not, I think,” Renaud Fichet said. “It doesn’t matter which currency you will pay as long as they come to the place.”
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