A freshly-inked supplementary memorandum of understanding (MoU) to the Cambodia-Swiss air service agreement (ASA) may be a promising catalyst for new international commercial flights to the Kingdom as well as an uptick in European visitors, according to tourism and civil aviation industry insiders.
The MoU was signed on May 23 in Switzerland between State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) chief Mao Havannall and Federal Office of Civil Aviation of Switzerland (FOCA) director for aviation policy and strategy Francine Zimmermann, SSCA spokesman Sinn Chanserey Vutha revealed.
Supplementing the January 6, 2007 ASA, the new deal is primarily focused on the promotion of flight connectivity between the two countries, especially with Techo International Airport, which is scheduled to open in early 2025 and serve Phnom Penh, the spokesman said.
“This MoU will support the capacity of carriers of either country to conduct flights as well as exercise their fifth freedom rights … given the still-limited demand for direct flights between them,” he said.
Chanserey Vutha was referring to the Fifth Freedom of The Air, or “the right or privilege, in respect of scheduled international air services, granted by one state to another state to put down and to take on, in the territory of the first state, traffic coming from or destined to a third state”, as defined by UN agency International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
“The agreement will enable airlines to conduct market research and accommodate new flights,” he said, adding that the capital’s new airport will be classified as 4F, and improve the Kingdom’s potential for tourism, investment and major international meetings.
For reference, in the “4F” code designation, the number “4” means that the airport’s runway is longer than 1,800m and the letter “F” signifies that the runway is designed for aircraft with a wingspan of up to but not including 80m, and landing gear where the outside edges of the outermost wheels are less than 16m apart.
He stated that numbers of international tourists flying into Cambodia are approximately two-fifths of their 2019 levels, and predicted that the overall volume of inbound passengers in 2024 would be roughly equal to that of 2019.
Chanserey Vutha’s first claim was confirmed by Ministry of Tourism figures, which show that 481,582 international visitors to the Kingdom arrived by air between January and March, equivalent to 37.07 per cent of the 1,299,122 registered during the same three-month period in 2019.
Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Cambodia chapter chairman Thourn Sinan opined that launching flights to the European market would be an effective implementation of the international Open Skies regime.
“Because they stay longer and spend more money on their travels, we can be sure that the European market is legitimately aiding in the recovery of our tourism sector. Therefore, the more flights we have from Europe, the more we’ll benefit from Western guests’ coming,” he said.
Meanwhile, SSCA’s Havannall and Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) administrator Song Zhiyong on April 25 signed a cooperation agreement on aviation safety.
Havannall 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.
Tourism ministry statistics show that Cambodia welcomed 2.277 million international visitors last year, up 11.59 times from 2021 but down 65.56 per cent from the all-time high of 6.611 million in 2019.
Of the total international visitors, the majority had their purpose of visit marked as “holiday”, at 1.767 million or 77.60 per cent, followed by “business” (431,000; 18.93%) and “others” (79,049; 3.47%).
Similarly, the Kingdom welcomed 1,291,539 international visitors (1,006,793 holiday; 250,974 business; 33,772 others) in the first three months of 2023, which was equivalent to 68.78 per cent of the 1,877,853 recorded in the same period of 2019 (1,502,812 holiday; 317,556 business; 57,485 others), ministry figures indicate.
A visitor in the context of these statistics is a person travelling to the Kingdom, “staying at least overnight and not exceeding a specific period for leisure, recreation, business and other legal tourism purposes; and not relevant to the purpose of permanent residence or any remunerated activities”, as defined by the ministry.