Some 30 per cent of the 0.8-1.0 million projected mainland Chinese travellers to Cambodia this year are expected to visit Siem Reap province, as the Kingdom hosts the 32nd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games and 12th ASEAN Para Games, the annual Angkor Sangkran, and a variety of other key local events, according to Ministry of Tourism secretary of state Top Sopheak.
International flights to and from Cambodian have been on a steady increase as Covid-19 wanes, signalling a post-pandemic comeback for the aviation industry and acting as a meaningful source of general optimism for the Kingdom.
Revelling in this trend, senior tourism ministry officials have been holding a series of welcome ceremonies at the Kingdom’s three international airports for passengers aboard direct flights from China, after Beijing’s January 8 reopening to inbound and outbound tourism.
The latest of these was on March 3, when ministry officials held an event to greet China Eastern Airlines Corp Ltd’s inaugural flight on its Shanghai-Siem Reap route.
The ministry’s Sopheak led a delegation from the ministry, along with officials of the provincial administration and representatives from Cambodia Airports – a joint venture that manages the Kingdom’s airports – to welcome the Airbus A320 when it touched down. Flight MU2091 carried 132 Chinese passengers.
According to him, China Eastern will fly the Shanghai-Siem Reap route thrice a week – on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday.
Official estimates for the number of international visitors to the Kingdom for 2023 have been given at four million, 0.8-1.0 million of them expected to come from mainland China, he reaffirmed.
Sopheak had told The Post that some 25,000 Chinese mainlanders visited the Kingdom in January, compared to 2,500 a year earlier. Although this was roughly three per cent of the full-year targets, he seemed quite convinced that numbers would pick up and at least breach the lower bound of the range.
At present, Siem Reap International Airport sees an average of 250 flights a week and an average of 1,700-1,800 international tourists a day, according to the ministry.
Other notable welcome ceremonies were held on January 27 for Ruili Airlines Co Ltd’s flight DR5031 from Kunming to Sihanoukville, and on February 7 for Chinese flag carrier Air China Ltd’s flight CA745 from Beijing to Phnom Penh.
State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) spokesman Sin Chansereyvutha previously told The Post that Beijing’s “dynamic zero-Covid” regime in its latter days imposed a limit of 30 weekly flights between Cambodia and China – 15 in each direction.
Thiem Thuong, president of the Siem Reap-based Cambodia Chinese Tour Guide Association, commented that although Chinese visitors to the northern province remain rather sparse, inquiries from potential sightseers, travel agencies and other companies in China have markedly risen.
The ministry is also holding training courses for tourism professionals, he said, adding that a steadily growing number of former tour guides are returning to the trade.
He expressed confidence that Angkor Sangkran events set to be held in Siem Reap during the Khmer New Year holiday next month would attract plenty of local and international tourists to the province.
“I personally, as well as members of the association, hope that more Chinese travellers will visit Siem Reap from now on, as numbers of flights is increase,” Thuong said, sharing that Chinese tourists on average stay in Cambodia for three nights.
Angkor Tourist Guide Association president Khieu Thy remarked that Beijing’s reopening to outbound travel has been a welcome boon for Cambodia’s tourism sector, however, he did not entertain the possibility for any sudden spikes in industry metrics, citing Covid-induced economic damage in China and elsewhere.
Even with the government’s tourism-oriented “China Ready” strategy, “it may take a few more years” for numbers of Chinese travellers to climb up to desired levels, he said, lamenting that vast amounts of Chinese investment in Preah Sihanouk would most likely ensure that the coastal province continues to see more Chinese visitors than Siem Reap.