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People walk across the tarmac to their plane at the Sihanoukville International Airport in 2014.
People walk across the tarmac to their plane at the Sihanoukville International Airport in 2014. Maximovich Nikolay

Vietnam flights to broaden coastal tourism

Sihanoukville's tourism industry has welcomed news that the country’s flagship airline will commence scheduled service between Sihanoukville and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam next month, but said the coastal city could benefit greatly from more international flights.

Douglass McColl, vice president of Sihanoukville Tourism Association, said Cambodia Angkor Air’s new route, due to launch on June 17, should increase hotel occupancy in Sihanoukville, but more flights were needed to match the level of development.

“It’s a little bit of chicken and egg, because you need the hotels in order to justify the flights, but you need the flights in order to justify the hotels,” he said. “Hopefully the very fact that there are now flights starting in Kunming, [China,] and now Ho Chi Minh City, signals that there is enough development within Sihanoukville to be able to support that.”

Although he said that direct flights from Bangkok would be the next logical step, additional flights from China were even more important.

“I think that there will first be more direct flights to China, because if you look at the number of tourists, a lot of them are from China,” he said.

Aharon Gini, general manager of the Queenco Hotel and Casino, said it made sense that a direct flight from Ho Chi Minh City was given precedence over one from Bangkok because Vietnamese tourists – and Chinese tourists who stop-over in Ho Chi Minh City – come to Sihanoukville for the beach, casinos and leisure activities.

However, Thailand has its own famous beaches, so tourists have less incentive to visit Cambodia.

Nou Sophal, director of Preah Sihanouk’s provincial tourism department, said that although tourist visits to Sihanoukville increased by 13.7 per cent year-on-year during the first three months of the year, the number of visitors from Vietnam declined.

“The number of Vietnamese visitors is slightly down for the first quarter of this year,” he said, expressing hope that the new flight would reverse this trend.

According to the department’s figures, the top three tourists to Sihanoukville by nationality during the first quarter were Chinese, Russians and Germans. Vietnamese were fourth, with some 11,200 visiting the coastal city between January and March.

Sophal said the new flight to Ho Chi Minh City would not only bring in more Vietnamese, it would also provide more route options for international travellers, increasing their visits.

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