Air Asia has launched direct flights between Jakarta and Phnom Penh, in a move that is expected to strengthen the tourism industry and bilateral relations between the two nations.

The establishment of the direct flights followed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on tourism cooperation signed at the Indonesian embassy in Phnom Penh on April 10.

According to Thong Rathasak, secretary of state at the Ministry of Tourism, Cambodia received over 837,000 international tourists in the first two months of this year, with Indonesians making up nearly 20,000 of them.

“We expect to receive around 4.5 million international tourists this year, with over 150,000 of them coming from Indonesia. This is fitting, as 2023 marks the 64th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two nations,” he said.

Rathasak said that in 2022, with global travel and tourist industries approaching pre-pandemic conditions, Cambodia witnessed a remarkable surge in international tourism.

The country welcomed over 2.28 million international tourists, marking an increase of 1058.6 per cent compared to the previous year.

“Among these tourists, Indonesians accounted for more than 75,000 visitors, an almost 800 per cent increase. Tourism generated $1.415 billion in revenue for Cambodia,” he said.

Citing preliminary data from the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA), Rathasak said the first quarter of 2023 saw Cambodia receiving 494 flights per week, noting that 368 flights landed and departed from Phnom Penh International Airport, 118 from Siem Reap and 16 from Sihanoukville.

Cambodia currently has direct flights from 37 cities in 12 counties.

He said that by 2025, Cambodia will have three new international airports – one in Kandal province just outside the capital and the others in Siem Reap and Koh Kong provinces. The Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport (SAI) is expected to serve up to seven million passengers in 2023 and 10 million by 2040.

For Phnom Penh, he said the still-under-construction Techo International Airport (TIA) will serve up to 12 million, while the Dara Sakor International Airport in Koh Kong will serve up to seven million.

The direct flights to Jakarta will operate as scheduled services four days per week, using typical Airbus A320 aircraft, according to Chea Aun, standing secretary of state at the SSCA.

“Today’s event is a remarkable milestone which showcases the Bilateral Air Transport Service Agreement between Cambodia and Indonesia that was signed in 1969 and the 2006 MoU. It shows that the integration of ASEAN liberal air transport arrangements has been proudly implemented,” he said.

“Cambodia has established a policy of open skies in order to attract more direct inbound flights. This will facilitate international tourism, creating more employment opportunities and growing the national economy,” he added.

Lauti Nia Astri, charge d’affaires ad interim of the Indonesian embassy, congratulated Air Asia Indonesia for the inauguration of the direct flights, saying that it represents closer cooperation between the two nations.

“The inaugural flight was held in April after Good Friday and Easter celebrations for Christian colleagues, the upcoming Khmer New Year for Cambodian friends, and still in the month of Ramadan, a holy month for Muslims,” she said.

“Direct flights shorten the distance between the two countries, deepening economic, trade and tourism ties,” she added.

Astri said that with the tourism industry being a significant source of income for both countries, the direct flights are expected to boost both economies, while also promoting cultural exchange.

“Data from the Indonesian Statistics Agency says that in January-February this year, there were 1,588 Cambodian visitors to Indonesia, while in 2022, a total of 4,604 Cambodians visited. In the same year, 75,653 Indonesians visited the Kingdom,” she noted.

“We hope these direct flights will increase the interest of the Cambodian people to travel to Indonesia, especially beyond Bali, because Indonesia has a wide variety of attractive destinations,” she said.

She believed that cooperation between the two countries in the spirit of brotherhood is a must, so Indonesia and Cambodia can grow together.

Ibu Veranita Yosephine, CEO of Air Asia Indonesia, explained previous, indirect routes could be as long as eight hours.

“This was too long for many business people and short-term tourists,” she said.

Many people have asked me to arrange direct Phnom Penh-Jakarta flights, and we began selling tickets at the end of March. Now people can fly between the two cities in less than three hours,” she added.

Rathasak also invited other Indonesian carriers, such as Citilink and Garuda Airlines, to connect key tourism destinations.

He said the expansion of routes aligns with the government’s Visit Cambodia 2023 initiative, themed “Every Day is a Wonder”.

“Cambodia is ready to host the 32nd SEA Games from May 5-17 and 12th ASEAN Para Games from June 3-9, for the very first time. It is also the 10th anniversary of Angkor Sangkran, so we are looking forward to welcoming many guests this year,” added Rathasak.

He said the Kingdom is prepared to offer a warm welcome to people from all over the world, noting that tickets to all games of the biennial multi-sport extravaganza, including the opening and closing ceremonies, would be free of charge.