Cambodia Airways Co Ltd is set to launch direct commercial flights on March 27 linking Phnom Penh and Beijing, as the tally of Chinese visitors to the Kingdom climbs up towards the one-million target for 2023.

“The services will start operating [thrice weekly,] every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and will expand to five times a week, every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday from April 17,” the airline said in a statement.

KR 991 will depart Phnom Penh at 7:50am and arrive at Beijing Daxing International Airport at 1:30pm, after which flight KR 992 leaves Beijing at 2:30pm and touches down in Phnom Penh at 6:15pm. According to the airline’s website, a single standard adult ticket costs $250 for KR 991, $261 for KR 992, and $483 for a return trip – including taxes and surcharges.

Pacific Asia Travel Association Cambodia Chapter chairman Thourn Sinan welcomed the new flights, commenting to The Post on March 8 that additional viable transportation options would open doors for more Chinese tourists to visit the Kingdom, underpinned by Beijing’s 20-country tourism pilot programme that launched after the “dynamic zero-Covid” regime was dismantled.

He was alluding to a scheme that kicked off on February 6, in which Beijing authorised travel agencies to provide international group tours as well as flight and hotel packages to Chinese citizens, as long as they are restricted to Cambodia and 19 other countries, according to China’s tourism ministry.

The other 19 nations chosen for the programme were Argentina, Cuba, Fiji, Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia, Kenya, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, New Zealand, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.

“With the government gunning to attract around one million [mainland] Chinese travellers this year, more flights would be ideal,” Sinan said.

On January 2, Prime Minister Hun Sen stated that Cambodia would not follow in other countries’ footsteps in imposing any additional Covid-related restrictions on arrivals from the Chinese mainland.

On the contrary, the premier presented the development as an opportunity to bring in around “two million” mainland Chinese visitors this year, cashing in on pent-up travel demand. He stressed that greater numbers of Chinese tourists would spur near-term and longer-term growth in the Cambodian economy.

Of note, according to the Ministry of Tourism, Cambodia has only twice tallied more than two million annual mainland Chinese visitors: 2.024 million in 2018 and 2.362 million in 2019, of which 1.299 million and 1.577 million respectively had their purpose of visit marked as “holiday”.

Meanwhile, in a January 5 statement, the ministry described China as the largest source of potential tourists, given its massive population.

The ministry hailed the quality of China’s transportation links with the Kingdom as well as the two countries’ cooperative ties across a variety of fields, and suggested that involvement in the oft-mentioned “community of common destiny” means that the Chinese tourist market is a top priority for Cambodia as well as ASEAN.

“We are pleased to welcome Chinese tourists”, and travellers from elsewhere, to Cambodia “without any health conditions”, the statement affirmed.

In 2019, Chinese citizens made 155 million outbound trips – accounting for 10 per cent of the global total – spending about $258 billion abroad, or about one-fifth of the $1.3 trillion in world tourism spending, it said.

ASEAN received 32.2 million Chinese visitors, accounting for 22.5 per cent of arrivals to the Southeast Asian bloc. Of that number, Thailand welcomed 11 million, Singapore 3.4 million and Malaysia 3.1 million, the statement added.

It noted that mainland Chinese travellers to Cambodia accounted for some $1.8 billion in tourism receipts in 2019 – or roughly three-eighths of the $4.919 billion generated by all visitors to the Kingdom that year, as shown by previous ministry data.

Phnom Penh-based Cambodia Airways was established and incorporated in September 2017, and launched its inaugural flight on July 10, 2018, from the capital to Siem Reap.

The company operates a fleet of Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft, and has – at some point – launched round-trip routes from its hub Phnom Penh to destinations such as Bangkok, Chengdu, Hong Kong, Macau, Seoul, Shenzhen, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville, Taipei and Wenzhou.