Cambodia Angkor Air (CAA) has drawn mixed reactions from the travel industry for changes it made this month to its flights to and from Sihanoukville.
The airline launched a new 35-minute direct route from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh, but the return journey is not available. To return, tourists have to stop over at Siem Reap.
Also, tourists can only fly directly from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville, with the direct return route scrapped.
These two changes, which started on April 1, are “based on the airline’s market demand and operating profits”, said Vann Chanty, the director of air transport of the State Secretariat for Civil Aviation, without elaborating.
According to an official at Siem Reap airport, who declined to be named, fewer tourists travel from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap, so CAA scrapped the route. This is so that the airline’s planes at Sihanoukville can continue flying to Phnom Penh to board more passengers, before returning to Siem Reap.
These changes allow quicker travel from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh, so tourists have “more opportunities” to experience these places, said Ho Vandy, co-chair of the Government-Private Sector Working Group on Tourism that proposed the change.
But Cambodia Association of Travel Agents’ president Ang Kim Eang said that while tourists now have more choices, the routes that fly only one way – Siem Reap-Sihanoukville and Sihanoukville-Phnom Penh – are “not practical”.
Some tourists on these routes “might drive back instead, risking accidents,” he added.
Meanwhile, about 30 per cent of VLK Royal Tourism’s customers have complained about the restrictive routes, said the company’s general manager Lav Heng. With the flight changes, their itineraries had to change, and the company had to refund up to 20 per cent of what the tourists had paid, he said.
“But we have no choice as there are no other airlines flying [scheduled domestic routes]. With the upcoming Cambodia Airlines, maybe we will have more choices.”