Not only are tourists coming in numbers but they are also extending their stay, which is good news for the industry.
Tourists are finally spending more than two days in the Kingdom. Minister of Tourism
Thong Khon said the average stay in 2007 was four to five days, demonstrating that
Cambodia's tourism industry is not only growing-last year heralded a record two million
plus arrivals-but diversifying.
More tourists are visiting Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville rather than just staying
in Siem Reap, said Khon, who was named minister last May.
"They come to see the temples in Siem Reap but they are now more likely to extend
their trip," he said.
Within the region, Cambodia is still lagging behind Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore
and Malaysia in terms of how long tourists stay, said Ho Vandy, president of the
Cambodian Association of Travel Agents. More diversification of tourism options in
Cambodia could change this, Vandy said.
"Ecotourism was a big trend last year," he said.
The remote jungle areas of the Kingdom such as Banteay Chmar, Koh Ker and Mondolkiri
are attracting increasing numbers of tourists. But inadequate tourism infrastructure
prevents the areas from becoming mainstream destinations.
"If road conditions improved Preah Vihear temple could become a major site of
tourism," Vandy said.
Access to the Kingdom has improved over 2007 with the introduction of a regular charter
flight from Toyko to Siem Reap in November and the first ever direct flight from
Europe launched in December.
Domestic air-travel also looks set to improve. According to Philip Set Kao, President
of the Cambodian Hotels Association and General Manager of Borei Angkor Hotel, the
government plans to have a state-owned carrier flying from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville.
The new carrier is a joint venture with Indonesian companies. It was announced by
Prime Minister Hun Sen late last year.
In light of the figures hit in 2007, the Ministry of Tourism is optimistic about
2008. Khon said the projection is for 2.5 million tourists in 2008.
But to really attract more tourists, more than just infrastructure must improve,
said Khon. "We need higher quality in all areas-food, transportation, hotels."
The government has long sought to attract more high-end tourism and golf is proving
a successful way to achieve this aim, said Khon.
More golf courses should be built in Siem Reap, Khon said, allowing golfers to combine
their favorite sport with a cultural experience and enabling Cambodia to tap into
a lucrative global market. "There are 60 million golfers around the world and
17 million just in Asia," he said.
Other new developments to encourage more-and more diverse types of-tourism are also
on the horizon, said Khon. A theme park planned for Phnom Penh has already won the
support of city authorities and interest from local and Singaporean investors.
Ultimately, Khon said the biggest factor in the recent growth of tourism is security.
"Now Cambodia is safe," he said.