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People queue at an immigration point in the Phnom Penh International Airport last year after disembarking from a flight.
People queue at an immigration point in the Phnom Penh International Airport last year after disembarking from a flight. Vireak Mai

Kingdom’s three airports to see passenger traffic take off

Passenger traffic at all three of Cambodia’s international airports is expected to grow this year despite the economic slowdown in Asia’s biggest economy, which could see many Chinese tourists tightening their belt.

Khek Norinda, communications director for Cambodia Airports, the French-Malaysian joint venture that operates the Kingdom’s three international airports, said the company forecasts combined growth of passenger traffic at the three airports to top 7 per cent in 2016.

“The main drivers of this increase are double-digit growths at Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville airports,” he said. “Traffic at Siem Reap airport may be softer due to a recent slowdown in tourist arrivals.”

Phnom Penh International Airport handled a record 3 million passengers last year, 15.5 per cent more than in 2014, according to Pichr Sopontara, Routes Development Manager at Cambodia Airports.

More than 3.2 million passengers passed through Siem Reap’s airport, the nation’s busiest, which recorded slower growth last year despite a 9 per cent year-on-year increase in passenger traffic, he said.

Sihanoukville’s airport, by contrast, saw a surge in passenger traffic, in part due to its low base. The underserved airport handled twice as many flights in 2015, with the number of passengers increasing to 94,000, up from 51,000 passengers a year earlier.

Sopontara said the biggest growth in passenger traffic by nationality was from China. Some 480,000 Chinese visited the Kingdom in 2015, a 27 per cent increase over the previous year.

The growth of Chinese visitors was hardly surprising, given the sheer number of Chinese taking to the skies in 2015 and the strong ties between Beijing and Phnom Penh, said Ho Vandy, managing director of World Express Tours & Travel.

Despite troubling economic forecasts and the recent slide in the Chinese stock markets, Chinese outbound tourism continued into record territory last year. More than 109 million Chinese citizens travelled overseas in 2015, spending a total of $229 billion, according to a GfK survey released last week.

“China visitors have the potential to overtake Vietnam as the number one [source of international visitors] in the next few years,” Vandy said, estimating over 900,000 Vietnamese visited Cambodia in 2015.

Vandy played down the impact of China’s economic headwinds, saying he did not expect to see a slow-down in Chinese visits to the Kingdom.

“Even though China’s economy is slowing a bit, it will not impact the travel plans of individual Chinese or the size of Chinese investment in Cambodia,” he said.

“If we compare the size of Chinese investment in Cambodia to Chinese investment in their own country, it was just a small amount.”

As passenger traffic continues to grow, airlines are expanding their connections to the Kingdom. Cambodia’s three international airports recorded over 70,000 flight movements last year, a 9.1 per cent increase over 2014.

Sopontara said several new carriers are expected to add service to Cambodian cities in 2016, with Thai Smile Airways to commence Bangkok-Siem Reap flights on February 1, and Hong Kong Airlines to inaugurate flights from Hong Kong to Phnom Penh on February 27.

“Besides these, we are expecting another two or three airlines to come to Cambodia this year,” he said. “Some existing domestic and international airlines are planning to add more flights as well.”

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