Fresh calls and plans for direct commercial flights between Cambodia and Indonesia has sparked optimism across the Kingdom’s travel industry for renewed impetus to drive bilateral tourism and investment flows as well as to foster appreciably greater economic growth here.

This comes following a meeting between Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak and his former Indonesian counterpart Enggartiasto Lukita, also a prominent businessman, in Jakarta on March 20.

At the meeting, Sorasak asked Enggartiasto to use his influence to stimulate trade, investment and tourism between the two countries, and expressed his desire to see Indonesian airlines launch direct flights as soon as possible, the commerce ministry said in a statement.

World Express Co Ltd managing director Ho Vandy told The Post on March 23 that AirAsia is set to fly between Jakarta and Phnom Penh four days a week – Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday – beginning in end-April.

Flights connecting the Kingdom to Indonesia – the fourth most populous nation, which ranks among the top 20 economies – would be a boon for the local tourism industry and the broader economy, bringing in more Indonesian sightseers as well as promoting bilateral political and trade ties, he said

Vandy, who is also Cambodia Association of Travel Agents adviser, noted that Indonesian flag carrier Garuda Airlines used to operate direct flights between the two countries – until Covid-19 hit.

“A direct Jakarta-Phnom Penh route will be of great benefit to Cambodian tourism, since Indonesian tourists are particularly fond of the Angkor Wat temples in Siem Reap province, in addition to Phnom Penh, while Cambodian tourists like to visit Bali, Indonesia,” he said.

Meanwhile, estimating Indonesia’s population at 277 million, Pacific Asia Travel Association Cambodia Chapter chairman Thourn Sinan echoed Vandy’s sentiment that direct flights between the two ASEAN nations would bring huge benefits for the Cambodian economy.

Although historically most Indonesian visitors to Cambodia travelled to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, a smaller but nonetheless significant proportion would find their way to Preah Sihanouk province to work or gamble, he affirmed.

“Indonesia is an important market to pay attention to – the upper echelons of the Cambodian Ministry of Tourism and State Secretariat of Civil Aviation [SSCA] as well as the private sector have constantly paid close attention to work towards this end,” Sinan said. He urged local airlines to study the market and look into launching flights to Indonesia.

Interestingly, the tourism ministry tallied an all-time record of 75,653 Indonesian visitors to Cambodia last year – surpassing even the 2019 total. The majority had their purpose of visit marked “business”, at 55,107, followed by “holiday” (20,328) and “others” (218) – compared to second-place 2019’s 66,804 (26,410 business; 38,530 holiday; 1,864 others).

Among the list of Cambodia’s major source markets for inbound travellers – which includes jurisdictions with relatively low numbers such as Honduras, Macau, Monaco, Palestine and Sudan – Thailand was the only other entry for which the 2022 total outstripped its 2019 counterpart.

Indonesians accounted for 3.32 per cent of all foreign visitors to Cambodia last year, versus the 1.01 per cent recorded in 2019. In 2022, Indonesia was the Kingdom’s sixth largest source market for inbound travellers, after Thailand (853,376), Vietnam (463,995), mainland China (106,875), the US (93,386) and Laos (92,609). South Korea followed with 64,040.

The apparent uptick in Indonesian business travellers could be attributed to the establishment of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia (IndoCham) on September 23, 2021, along with a variety of major business-related events that have opened doors for partnerships between public and private organisations of both countries.

One such event is the February 22, 2022 Indonesia-Cambodia Investment Dialogue, at which then-Indonesian ambassador Sudirman Haseng vowed that his embassy would work with IndoCham to promote trade between the two Southeast Asian countries and attract investment to the Kingdom.

In 2022, international visitors totalled 2.277 million (431,000 business; 1.767 million holiday; 79,049 others), down 65.56 per cent from 2019’s record-breaking 6.611 million (1.371 million business; 5.035 million holiday; 204,326 others).

International tourism receipts clocked in at $1.415 billion last year, marking a 7.690-fold increase over $184 million in 2021, albeit still a 71.2 per cent decrease from 2019’s record $4.919 billion. Tourism’s share of GDP (gross domestic product) was 3.6 per cent, compared to 1.8 per cent in 2021, 12.1 per cent in 2019, and 12.7 per cent in 2018.