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A plane flies over houses near the Phnom Penh International Airport
A plane flies over houses near the Phnom Penh International Airport last year as it prepares to land. Vireak Mai

Airport traffic growth boom

Chinese tourism continues to fuel Cambodia’s skyrocketing aviation sector, now one of the fastest-growing markets in all Southeast Asia for five years running.

Australian-based Centre for Aviation yesterday released the first of a two-part report on Cambodia’s aviation market. The report showed a 13 per cent increase in passenger traffic to more than 5.7 million across all three major airports in 2014.

“Cambodia has now experienced double-digit passenger growth for five consecutive years, an impressive but little-known achievement,” the report said.

The acceleration of Cambodia’s aviation market comes as regional countries, such as Thailand and Malaysia, slowed. Airports of Thailand recorded just 3 per cent growth in passenger traffic in 2014, compared to 16 per cent in 2013. Similarly, Malaysia saw a slowdown from 18 per cent in 2013 to just 5 per cent last year.

“Passenger traffic in Cambodia has now quadrupled since the turn of the century and has more than doubled since 2009,” the report said.

Cambodia’s double-digit growth is being driven by Chinese tourism, which over the past five years has grown more than 60 per cent and prompted new and existing airlines to expand their services to cater to the ever-expanding market.

While 75 per cent of all seating capacity aboard China-Cambodia routes is taken up by Chinese-owned airlines, a small band of new and existing Cambodian carriers is attempting to claim their slice of the pie.

Following Cambodia Angkor Air and Bassaka Air’s expansion to Chinese destinations, Sky Angkor Airlines (previously named Skywings Asia Airlines) commenced flights between Sihanoukville and China’s Hang Zhou City in Zhejiang province on January 22.

While Siem Reap and Phnom Penh have both proven strong destinations for Chinese tourists, SAA will be the first airline to test the direct Sihanoukville to China route.

SAA is flying twice-weekly to Hangzhou in eastern Zhejiang province, and tourism industry representatives are hopeful that this new route will lure more international carriers to Cambodia’s best-known beachside location.

SAA launched in 2011 under its previous name Skywing Asia Airlines, with direct flights from Siem Reap to Incheon in northwestern South Korea. South Korean tourists account for 25 per cent of Cambodia’s international passenger arrivals, according to CAPA.

The company’s expansion will add to the rapid increase in traffic at the Sihanoukville International Airport, which received 43,000 arrivals in 2014, a 100 per cent increase compared to 2013.

“There’s not enough awareness of Sihanoukville as a destination in its own right,” said Khek Norinda, communication and marketing director of Cambodia Airports, said yesterday. “It is seen as complementary to Siem Reap and heritage tourism. So there’s a critical need for more joint actions like SAA’s to develop activities in Sihanoukville and promote the destination.”

But the coastal destination might already have the attractions that Chinese tourists are looking for, according to Ho Vandy, co-chair of the Tourism Private Sector Working Group.

Vandy believes Sihanoukville’s casino and entertainment venues will be a massive draw card for SAA in attracting Chinese travellers.

“Sihanoukville is also an area of casinos and entertainment, which Chinese visitors like,” he said, adding that a surge in Chinese tourism to the coastal province could spur demand for improved venues and facilities.




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