Cambodian tourism authorities are formulating strategies to carve a larger share out of the Chinese outbound tourism market and have set a target of drawing over 700,000 Chinese visitors this year, and up to 2 million a year by 2020.
Rising incomes have transformed China into the world’s largest outbound tourism market, with more than 135 million Chinese expected to travel this year, according to Billy Ng, head of Asia gaming, lodging and leisure at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Chinese tourists spent around $164 billion last year and despite signs of slowing economic growth are tipped to pump $264 billion into the global economy in 2019.
“We are not seeing a slowdown because of various factors like rising disposable income and the increase in middle-class households,” Ng told delegates of the 2015 Global Tourism Economy Forum in Macau last week.
He said the growth of the Chinese mass-market tourist is driving a shift in travel and consumer preferences, with the focus now on necessity rather than luxury.
Hong Kong and Macau – as shopping and gambling destinations respectively – claim over half of all money spent by Chinese outbound tourists, he added.
Despite a significant gaming sector, Cambodia is looking to position itself as a cultural tourism destination.
Addressing the forum, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Cambodia’s heritage sites – including Angkor Wat and thousands of temples – had made the Kingdom one of the region’s most attractive destinations for cultural tourism.
“Cultural tourism comprises about 80 per cent of our tourism industry as a whole, and it plays a crucial role in developing the country,” he said.
About 4.5 million tourists visited Cambodia last year, contributing around $3 billion to the economy. China was second only to Vietnam in visitor numbers, with 560,000 tourist arrivals last year.
To boost these numbers, the government is considering the possibility of opening more consulates in China and adding more direct flights to Chinese cities, the prime minister said on his official Facebook page.
A study by Bank of America Merrill Lynch found that Cambodia was one of the fastest-growing international destinations for Chinese tourists, with arrivals increasing 24 per cent in 2014 and projected to grow by 12 per cent this year.
Cambodia’s Tourism Ministry is working to keep up the momentum and wants the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to lend its support.
“To benefit from Chinese outbound tourism, we need to improve our infrastructure and human resources, as well as connectivity, and to do this we need capital,” Tourism Minister Thong Khon told the forum. “We are arranging this, but it would improve our chances if we had capital from AIIB.”
Understanding Chinese consumer behaviour is key to attracting more Chinese tourists, the minister said.
He also plugged a proposal to encourage local businesses to accept payment in Chinese currency.
“The prime minister has given a green light to the relevant ministries to consider allowing Chinese tourists to use yuan renminbi currency in the Cambodian market so they don’t need to exchange their money,” Khon said.