Photo by: Sovan Philong
The first Air France plane to Cambodia in 37 years descends to Phnom Penh International Airport yesterday.
Air France KLM’s return to Cambodia after 37 years of no flights reconnects two countries with close historical ties, but also reflects the growing economic importance of the region.
Asia as a whole is “growing extraordinarily,” CEO Pierre-Henri Gourgeon told The Post yesterday. For that reason, and France’s history with Cambodia, the move is a “natural” one for Air France KLM.
“Certainly this business [in Indochina] is attractive for the future,” he said.
Air France’s inaugural flight to Cambodia, number 274, touched down at Phnom Penh International Airport yesterday afternoon. It was the first of its kind from any European carrier since the Khmer Rouge took the city in 1975.
The company will start with three round-trip flights a week, with a stop in Bangkok. But Gourgeon said he hopes to see direct flights between Paris and Phnom Penh in five or so years.
The CEO wouldn’t offer an expectation of revenues from the new route, but he did say it would take “a year, maybe less” before it was profitable. He added it was because, while businessmen may put the route to use immediately, it usually takes time for consumers to incorporate it into their vacation plans.
“But we are optimistic enough to think it’s worthwhile,” Gourgeon said, “and we see the future for a profitable route.”
He also said he plans to eventually add flights to Siem Reap, a major tourist destination in the Kingdom. When asked why Air France didn’t start with flights to the Angkor Wat area, he said he thought it had to do with issues with local Cambodian operators.
“From what I understand, it’s not feasible yet,” he said.
Minister of Tourism Thong Khon yesterday welcomed the flights and the potential growth in tourism that they could offer by making travel from Europe more convenient.
“European tourists like to visit Cambodia because we have Angkor Wat, beaches and ecotourism areas,” he said, adding that while the Kingdom’s economy doesn’t benefit directly from the new flights, it does benefit from the increased spending brought by tourists. France was the largest European source of tourists to Cambodia in the first two months of 2011.
Ang Kim Eang, President of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents, said the flights, coupled with the visa exemption for visitors from ASEAN countries, “will bring Cambodia further inflows of tourists.”
Deputy Prime Minister Sok An said he saw Air France’s return as a sign the global community increasingly feels comfortable doing business in the Kingdom.
“Air France’s direct flights showed that foreign investors feel confident to invest in Cambodia,” he said.
To that end, tourism won’t be the only revenue stream Air France KLM will find from Cambodia.
The planes will also carry as much as 40 tonnes a week of cargo, the company said.
Now that there is a more direct route between the Kingdom and Europe, Gourgeon expects businesses to make the switch to Air France when shipping air freight.
“This traffic will naturally move to be on our aircraft,” he said.