Air arrivals to Cambodia have been seeing month-on-month increases of “more than 20 per cent” since the last week of April, as the Kingdom hosts the 32nd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games and gears up for the 12th ASEAN Para Games next month, according to State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) spokesman Sinn Chanserey Vutha on May 8.

This marks the first time the events are being held on Cambodian soil, seen as a long-awaited honour given the SEA Games’ 64-year history. The 32nd SEA Games are officially scheduled from May 5-17, and the 12th ASEAN Para Games from June 3-9.

Chanserey Vutha told The Post that the month-on-month rises seen in the past couple of weeks are roughly 10 percentage points higher than averages seen over the months prior.

“Since Cambodia has been preparing to host the 32nd SEA Games and 12th ASEAN Para Games, we’ve been welcoming delegations of athletes as well as tourists, mostly from ASEAN countries,” he said.

For reference, Ministry of Tourism statistics show that the number of international visitors arriving via air grew from 75,684 in July 2022 to 171,207 in February 2023, representing a compound monthly growth rate (CMGR) of 12.37 per cent.

Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Cambodia chapter chairman Thourn Sinan commented that the two major regional sporting events have helped to raise the profile of Cambodia on the regional and global stages, bringing in tourists and sport aficionados from around the world.

“It is a historic event for Cambodia, which we’ve been looking forward to for more than 64 years. We’re all set to receive praises from both regional and non-regional countries. This is essential for a prompt recovery of the tourism sector,” he said.

Chanserey Vutha contended that interest in Cambodia will remain even after the end of the Games. “The SEA Games are not only the biggest regional sporting event, but also a draw for tourists from around the world,” he said.

Early this month, tourism minister Thong Khon reported that “about 1.2 million” foreign nationals had visited the Kingdom in the first three months of the year, suggesting that the SEA Games and ASEAN Para Games would better the odds of seeing a total of four million by the end of the year.

“We consider the SEA Games an important opportunity to attract foreign visitors to Cambodia. Through this event, we will receive 500,000 foreign tourists, and we’re confident that we’ll receive at least four million by the end of the year,” he said.

The tourism ministry reported that Cambodia received a total of 837,446 international visitors in the first two months of the year, marking an increase of 778.6 per cent against the corresponding period last year, but a decrease of 32.72 per cent versus the same time in 2019.

Thailand accounted for the lion’s share of the visitors, at 274,950 or 32.8 per cent, which was up 950.7 per cent year-on-year, followed by Vietnam (131,196; 15.7%; up 396.4%), mainland China (79,435; 9.5%; up 1347.2%) and Laos (41,040; 4.9%; up 16719.7%).

Interestingly, given that January and February accounted for an average of 18.7313 per cent of the full-year total during the 2004-2019 period, this offers a ballpark estimate of 4.471 million for the full-year 2023 figure, which would exceed the ministry’s forecast.

It is worth mentioning that this estimate does not factor in anticipated boosts from post-Covid recovery, the “Visit Cambodia Year 2023” campaign, or the SEA Games and associated events scheduled for May and June, which when combined may very well bump that number past the 4.5 million mark.

In 2022, Cambodia received 2.277 million international visitors, up 1,059 per cent compared to 196,495 in 2021, but still down 65.56 per cent from the record-breaking 6.611 million logged in 2019.

A visitor in the context of these statistics is a person travelling to the Kingdom, “staying at least overnight and not exceeding a specific period for leisure, recreation, business and other legal tourism purposes; and not relevant to the purpose of permanent residence or any remunerated activities”, as defined by the ministry.