A helicopter flight tour to Preah Vihear is just one part of the 10-day Cambodia Immersion for Millionaires Tour launched this week. The cost per person? $25,000.
According to Christopher Gramsch, sales manager for organiser Khiri Travel Cambodia, there is increasing demand among high-spending travellers and calls Cambodia a country with potential.
“What we want to show is that it is possible for even the most high-end clients to be able to experience the same level of luxury and quality that they could in Thailand or Vietnam.”
With its many sites and some high-end accommodation, Cambodia offers potential for luxury tourism. But although demand has been growing, mostly among foreigners, challenges such as a lack of infrastructure and marketing still limit high-end travelling, industry experts say.
“I think it is a market for Cambodia because we have a lot of high-end accommodation,” said Ang Kim Eang, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents.
But “the biggest challenge is the promotion”, he said.
Jay Tindall, co-founder and COO of Bangkok- and New York-based Remote Lands said: “Cambodia is a good market for high-end luxury tourism. We have been operating high-end tours to Cambodia for the past seven years.
“The main challenge is the lack of infrastructure in the more remote areas,” he said.
Along the garment, agriculture and construction sectors, tourism is a crucial industry for Cambodia’s growing economy, contributing around 12 per cent to the gross domestic product. Data from the Ministry of Tourism show that the number of international tourist arrivals reached 3.58 million in 2012, a 24.4 per cent rise from 2.88 million in 2011.
According to Ho Vandy, co-chair of the government-private sector working group on tourism, while Cambodia’s market and demand for luxury tourism is still small, it will gradually increase in the future.
He said that in the past five years there had already been a change, with wealthy foreigners but also Cambodians hiring private jets to fly in and out of the country, a sign of the growing demand for luxury travel.
Ang Kim Eang said promotion for the sector also came through world-class movie productions, such as the movie Tomb Raider. “This kind of publication introduced Cambodia to the high-end tourism,” he said.
Products such as the new millionaire trip are “positive to the country”, he said. “It’s reflecting the country’s growth and what Cambodia has to offer.”
Tindall said their clients frequently fly in by private jet, stay at exclusive resorts such as Amansara in Siem Reap or Raffles in Phnom Penh, or the new Song Saa private island. “[Luxury tourism] is not new, but new hotels like Song Saa help bring added awareness.”
However, while Cambodia has many resorts, “there is a lot of room for growth, whereas Thailand is more saturated at this point,” he said.
“Thailand is a much more developed market than Cambodia, and there are many more options for hotels, yacht, and private jets. In fact most private jets that we fly to Cambodia are based in Thailand.”
However, high-end tourism with such prices remains out of reach for a vast majority of Cambodian tourists.
Both Ho Vandy and Ang Kim Eang said products like the millionaire’s trip mostly target foreigners.
That is where a major challenge lies, according to Ang Kim Eang. He says for a $25,000 trip, it is not easy to find customers.
“We don’t lack the product, the supplier for the high end tourism, but I think we lack the PR and marketing.”
For Tindall, the challenge lies in access to remote areas. “Phnom Penh and Siem Reap have good quality hotels and acceptable infrastructure; however there are many interesting parts of Cambodia that are still difficult to reach and have limited options for accommodation at the high end and poor infrastructure. These places include Batambang, the Cardamom Mountains [and] Mondulkiri.”