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Chinese tourists tough to capture


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Siem Reap Province
A YEAR ago, Allison Angkor Hotel was temporarily laying off employees between May and July, Cambodia’s slow tourist season. This year, however, the hotel on National Road 6 in Siem Reap is fully staffed due to a sharp increase in Chinese guests.

“During these months, it’s kind of quiet for Western tourists. In 2009 and 2010, we had to make staff take mandatory leave. But because of Chinese tourists this year, we didn’t have to do that,” Allison’s General Manager Kousoum Kina said.

With nearly 100,000 Chinese visiting the Kingdom during the first five months of the year, Chinese visitors are increasing rapidly, currently third in total number of tourists behind Vietnam and Korea, according to statistics from the Ministry of Tourism.

The 33 percent year-over-year growth in Chinese tourists far outpaces inbound tourists from comparable neighbouring countries. Korean tourist numbers grew by 20 percent in the first five months of the year compared to the year before, while Vietnamese tourists, increased by about 16 percent, according to the statistics.

Tourism Minister Thong Khon said he projects the Kingdom will see 200,000 total Chinese visitors in 2011, or year-over-year growth of about 40 percent.

However, industry insiders say the economic impact from the growth of Chinese tourists has presently been confined largely to well-connected businesses in Siem Reap.

Cambodian insiders say up to 90 percent of Chinese tourists travel in tour groups, visiting only the hotels and restaurants to which their guides take them.

For hotels with inroads into the market, the effect can be lucrative. Chinese tour groups are taking up to 40 rooms in the Allison Angkor Hotel per visit this season, Kousoum Kina said.
Some hotels with traditionally Western customer bases are finding the Chinese market challenging, Roman Cornillet, sales and marketing manager at the Himawari Hotel in Phnom Penh, said.

“It’s kind of difficult to penetrate this market,” he said.

“Chinese tourists come with a Chinese travel agency. They want to stay at Chinese hotels and eat at Chinese restaurants. They want to be with people who speak Chinese.”

The Angkor Riviera Hotel in Siem Reap has seen large increases in Chinese tourists since the end of last year, Assistant Manager Tang Ros Sok said. Fostering good relations with Chinese tour operators has been essential for luring Chinese customers, he said.

“If there’s no cooperation with the tour guides, then no Chinese guests will come. They are hard to find,” Tang Ros Sok said.

The City River Hotel, located in the same area as the Angkor Riviera Hotel, has seen almost no Chinese guests this year, Manager Paul Sreng said. Guests at the City River Hotel are primarily European and the hotel does not have contacts with Chinese tour operators, he added.

With an increasingly affluent middle class in China, experts say Chinese tourism in the region will see dramatic increases during the next two decades.

“The potential for growth is huge, vast,” Tim Winter, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Cultural Research at the University of Western Sydney, said.

“In less than 15 years’ time, China will be producing around 100 million outbound tourists – numbers that the world hasn’t seen before.”

Regional tourism now dominates the Cambodian market, Winter said. While 10 years ago the majority of travellers in the Kingdom were from Europe and North America, 75 percent of today’s inbound tourists are from within the region, he said.

More than 230,000 Vietnamese tourists visited Cambodia in the first five months of the year, according to statistics from the Ministry of Tourism. But Vietnamese spend less compared to their Chinese counterparts, said Wei Jiming, manager of the Wood House Chinese Restaurant in Siem Reap.

“There are lots of Vietnamese tourists in this city, but they don’t spend like the Chinese do,” he said.

“The future of tourism here is from mainland China. The people in Beijing and Shanghai already have enough money. And there are so many of them.”

Rapid growth in Chinese disposable income is translating into larger bills in Siem Reap restaurants and hotels, Wei Jiming said.

China’s per capita GDP was about US $7,400 in 2010, a 10-percent increase over the previous year, according to the International Monetary Fund. Vietnam’s 2010 per capita GDP was US $3,100, with an increase of about six percent.

A politically stable Cambodia, coupled with China-oriented promotion accounts for the increasing numbers, Minister Thong Khon said on Tuesday.

“We did a good job advertising to Chinese and were successful during our exhibit at the Shanghai World Expo last year,” he said.

Charter flights from a growing number of Chinese cities have made Cambodia an easy travel destination, Thong Khon added. Chinese cities such as Chengdu, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Nanjing have direct flights to either Phnom Penh or Siem Reap.

Cambodia’s burgeoning Chinese tourism market is largely concentrated in Siem Reap. Hotel and restaurant operators in Phnom Penh said they haven’t seen the same increases in Chinese tourists this year.

Huang Rujiang, manager of Yi Pin Xiang Sichuanese Restaurant on the capital’s Monivong Boulevard, said he has seen an increase in Chinese businesspeople, but not tourists.

“There’s nothing that Chinese want to see in Phnom Penh. That’s all in Siem Reap,” he said.

“The environment here is similar to some Chinese cities. There’s no reason for them [Chinese tourists] to travel here.”

Phnom Penh’s various genocidal museums, such as Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields, are not appealing to Chinese travellers, Huang Rujiang added.

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