Months on after Beijing lifted Covid-19 travel restrictions and rolled out a pilot international group-tour scheme encompassing Cambodia and 19 other countries, Chinese tourist arrivals to the Kingdom, and especially Siem Reap, have fallen short of the expectations of industry insiders based in the culturally-rich northwestern province.

Thiem Thuong, president of the Siem Reap-based Cambodia Chinese Tour Guide Association (CCTGA), told The Post on May 9 that despite a boom in the number of local tourists to the temples in the province, foreign travellers have been returning rather slowly since early 2023.

He pinned the slowdown in foreign visitors on the deteriorating global political and economic environment, even with Covid-19 no longer a major concern.

Most foreign travellers are from Asian countries, he said, noting that Chinese visitors remain rather limited, arriving in groups of two or three, rather than in large groups.

“There aren’t many Chinese visitors to the temples,” he said, affirming that many of the tour guides who left the profession during the Covid crisis have since returned.

Angkor Tourist Guide Association president Khieu Thy drew attention to the fact that year-to-date increases in foreign tourists to Cambodia have been fairly modest, at least when compared to the staggering year-to-year gains typically cited.

“Numbers of tourists have been steadily increasing since the beginning of the year, most of whom have been from neighbouring countries,” he said.

Although numbers of foreign visitors to Siem Reap do not appear to show significant increases attributable to the ongoing Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, which Cambodia is currently hosting, the major regional sporting event is showcasing the progress made in the Kingdom, potentially encouraging more trips here in the future.

On April 25, State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) Mao Havannall and Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) administrator Song Zhiyong signed a cooperation agreement on aviation safety.

Havannall also asked for the CAAC’s cooperation to raise the number of direct commercial flights between Cambodia and China to at least 300 per week, which local pundits have said will foster strong growth in tourist arrivals from the Asian economic powerhouse.

According to the Ministry of Tourism, Cambodia received 2.277 million international visitors last year, up 1,059 per cent compared to 196,495 in 2021, but still down 65.56 per cent from the record-breaking 6.611 million logged in 2019. That figure is expected to rise to 4.0-4.5 million in 2023.