Thailand has overtaken Vietnam as Cambodia’s largest international market in terms of scheduled airline seat capacity, according to a report by the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) released yesterday.
The report says seat capacity on flights from Thailand to Cambodian airports increased 20 per cent last year and now account for more than a quarter of the total of Cambodia’s international seat capacity.
By contrast, airlines reduced their total seat capacity on flights from Vietnam.
“Cambodia-Thailand capacity is currently up more than 20 per cent year over year, while Cambodia-Vietnam capacity has decreased slightly,” the report says.
Thailand is connected to Cambodia by just one destination, Bangkok, compared with four in Vietnam. Yet the flow of traffic on flights operated between Bangkok and Cambodian airports has risen sharply, with new carriers adding service and existing carriers adding extra flights.
Bangkok Airways, which operates 11 daily flights between Bangkok and Cambodian airports, is second only to Vietnam Airlines in terms of overall seat capacity, with 21,420 weekly seats. Most of these seats are filled with passengers on connecting flights to destinations beyond Bangkok.
“Bangkok is a large local market from Cambodia, but most passengers flying from Phnom Penh or Siem Reap to Bangkok are travelling beyond Thailand,” the report said.
Sinan Thourn, chairman of the Cambodia Tourism Federation, said Bangkok is both a popular destination, and a busy hub for onward travel.
“Cambodians love Bangkok as a shopping and health destination, which keeps increasing seat capacity for all airlines that run between Thailand and Cambodia,” he said.
The trend prompted Thai Smile Airways, a subsidiary of Thai Airways, to launch a new route from Bangkok to Siem Reap on February 1, offering 10 flights a week. Bangkok Airways also added an additional flight to Phnom Penh last year.
While traffic on flights to Bangkok has increased last year, passenger capacity on flights from Siem Reap to Vietnam’s airports saw significant declines. Passenger capacity decreased by 25 per cent on flights from Siem Reap to Hanoi and by 12 per cent on flights from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City, the CAPA report said.
Vietnam Airlines remains the biggest foreign airline serving Cambodia, with 22,316 seats a week. However, the airline trimmed its total passenger capacity last year, the report noted.
Sinn Chansearey Vutha, deputy director general and spokesman for the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation, attributed the decline to fewer passengers using Vietnamese airports for connecting flights.
“Cambodia has become more of a direct destination,” he said. “Previously, [passengers] used a lot of connections through Vietnam, but now they are using direct flights from other countries.”
China in particular is much better served by direct flights to the Kingdom, with eight Chinese carriers now serving Cambodia.
Total seat capacity on direct flights between China and Cambodia was up 20 per cent last year, according to CAPA.
Vietnam’s share of international scheduled seat capacity to Cambodia is likely to decline further as the Kingdom pushes for more direct connections to China, Vutha said.
Meanwhile, he expects Bangkok-bound passenger traffic to increase over the next five years, not only because it is the largest hub in the region for international flights, but also because the country offers a lot of services and attractions.
“Thailand has a very good foreign tourism strategy,” he said.