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SCA looks for takeoff at Sihanoukville

Airport management firm calls for scheduled flights at Kingdom’s newly renovated coastal airstrip

SOCIÉTÉ Concessionnaire des Aéroports (SCA) is determined to convince airlines to start providing scheduled flights through Preah Sihanouk province’s fully operational airport and is working with international tour organisations, the Ministry of Tourism and hotel developers who hope to sell the province’s tourism potential to operators.

Representatives of SCA, a French company that runs Cambodia’s three international airports, the Ministry of Tourism, and 14 leading South Korean-based tour operators travelled to the coastal province last week to examine tourism development there.

Officials say scheduled flights – not the odd charter – are key for international recognition of the province.

“What we want to do is build awareness for Sihanoukville, because we feel that there is great tourism potential here,” Khek Norinda, SCA’s communications and marketing manager, said in a March 17 interview.

“If we promote tourism in Sihanoukville, it’ll bring more visitors and money through the airports and into the country.”

Preah Sihanouk airport was handed over to SCA in 2006 and has been internationally capable since June 2009.

The runway was expanded from 1,300 metres to 2,500 metres, making it the same length as the runway at Siem Reap’s international airport, Tanguy Bertolus, SCA’s chief planning officer, said last week.

“The runway can now handle mid-ranged aircraft travelling from anywhere in Asia,” he added.

SCA and the government want the new national carrier, Cambodia Angkor Air (CAA), to begin scheduled flights to Preah Sihanouk, but the CAA is apprehensive.

Cambodia Angkor Airlines’ vice CEO Lim Kao told the Post Wednesday the carrier’s three planes are already burdened with their runs, at a time when tourism has slowed. He added that CAA is reluctant to open up a new flight path without knowing if there is sufficient demand.

The growth rate of Cambodia’s tourism sector has declined in the last three years, according to the Ministry of Tourism 2009 figures.

Some prospective fliers to Preah Sihanouk may also be deterred by the memory of the crash of chartered flight PMT Air Flight XU-U4A, in June 2007, which killed all 22 passengers onboard – 13 of them South Korean tourists.

SCA officials point out this was not the fault of the airport but of a now defunct airline.

The new airport could bring in close to one million passengers a year, Bertolus said last week.

“What we need now is a coincidence of developments … with infrastructure and the hotels,” he said.

Sokha Hotels, which operates five-star accommodation on one of Preah Sihanouk’s white sand beaches, is planning to expand its facilities on its 23.5-hectare plot, General Manager Michael Lim told tour operators last week.

Pan Chantra, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Tourism, told the representatives last week that while the current infrastructure and access are not ideal, the province has come a long way and has more improvements in the works.

“We’re doing the best we can, but if you look back to a few years ago, it is better than before,” he said. “Regardless, my duty is to bring this issue to the top officials in the government, which is what I am doing.”

Still, most operators remained optimistic on the province’s potential.

“We want to unlock the hidden aspects of Cambodia,” Oh Su Yeon, manager for the Cambodian branch of Jung Sung Tours, said last week. “Sihanoukville in particular.”

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