As Cambodia continues to see an influx of tourists, led by the Chinese, the Kingdom is looking to move beyond Angkor Wat as its number-one travel attraction and promote eco-tourism, casino junkets and its beaches as well.
The Post’s Sor Chandara spoke to Ang Kim Eang, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, on some of the current trends that are shaping tourism in the Kingdom.
Cambodia’s tourism sector continues to grow. How is this year shaping up for your members and what trends are you noticing?
The tourist sector is continuing to grow overall, but not across all markets. It means that the number of tourists from some countries has increased while some others have shown little or no growth. So it pushes the association’s members to work harder to capture this growth market, and especially to meet the global trend for community-based eco-tourism, historical and sea-side activities, as Cambodia has the potential to cater to this trend.
The internet is driving a worldwide growth in do-it-yourself travel planning. Is Cambodia also seeing this, and which nationalities still prefer group packages?
Of course, modern technology is developing fast and our members understand this very well. This technological evolution has both positive and negative effects. But, travel groups are still popular. For those who have a language barrier, less time for planning and for those who want a quality, planned tour, they will always use a local travel operator.
There are more direct scheduled flights to China and plans to start direct flights to India and Indonesia. How do direct connections help the local industry?
For every additional flight connecting Cambodia there are a lot of benefits to the economy and tourism of both countries. Direct flights save time and money for travellers, which will lead to a doubling of tourist arrivals. When we have more tourists, we will get more revenue for the country.
Local tour operators are working hard to land contracts with Chinese tour groups. How important are these deals?
The current trend now is that Chinese tourists will grow and lead the growth for years, but we also have to look at the Japanese as a key source of tourists for Cambodia. If we can push for a direct flight from Japan to Cambodia, the Japanese will lead this growth, as they have in the past. India, Australia, Europe, and the US are other big potential markets for Cambodia.
Cambodia’s central bank recently said casinos contribute $2 billion to the economy. What trends are you seeing in gaming junkets and how do they benefit the broader economy?
Everything in the world has both positive and negative, even drugs, and it is the same for casinos. The key issue is to be able to manage it. If we are able to manage the sector, like is done in Las Vegas, Macau and Singapore, it will not only provide economic revenue, but also be a magnet to attract tourists.
Siem Reap is Cambodia’s top travel destination. Tour operators have complained of Chinese groups booking up all the hotels in the city. Does the city have sufficient hotel capacity and skilled workers to support its growth?
Authorities at all levels are working hard and with the participation from every party, including the private sector, Siem Reap can be developed to respond to the growing influx of tourists.
As for hotel room reservations being dominated by Chinese tourists, it’s about supply and demand. It’s a first-come first-serve policy. Hotel operators will find it difficult to refuse if the Chinese book rooms in bulk. The hotels in Siem Reap have enough rooms, but when we have a flood of visitors, it may cause a shortage of rooms. I think that we can avoid this problem if foreign travel operators cooperate with local tourism agencies that have more data on room availability.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.