Cambodia is looking for partners for the development of a planned airport in Mondulkiri province south of Sen Monorom town after PowerChina International Group Ltd (PIG) withdrew during the Covid-19 crisis and subsequent negotiations with other foreign companies fell through, according to a senior civil aviation official.

The airport is planned for a 300ha site in O’Raing district’s Sen Monorom commune – which borders the town of the same name to the south – and anticipated to cost more than $80 million. The Chinese state-owned PIG had been granted in-principle approval by the Cambodian government to study and draft a proposal for the project.

Sinn Chanserey Vutha, undersecretary of state and official spokesperson for the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA), confirmed to The Post on June 6 that companies from countries such as China and South Korea have met the authorities regarding the airport.

According to development plans, each of the Kingdom’s airports should in theory be from 150-250km away from the next one, he explained, highlighting the Sihanoukville and Dara Sakor airports as a notable exception to the rule – at nearly 60km apart.

A Mondulkiri airport, he said, would facilitate travel for domestic and foreign tourists between “economic poles” (or regions of concentrated economic activity), as well as speed up the movement of freight.

“The SSCA is working hard to find legitimate, top-quality partners to invest in this project,” Chanserey Vutha said.

Five areas that have been formally defined or proposed as “economic poles” are Phnom Penh, Preah Sihanouk and Siem Reap provinces, and the northwestern and northeastern regions. Mondulkiri is located in the northeastern region.

In August 2021, the government approved the Mondulkiri Tourism Development Master Plan 2021-2035, amid a broader initiative to attract about three million domestic and international tourists annually to the regional verdant biodiverse powerhouse in northeastern Cambodia by 2035.

The master plan is intended to complement a 2021-2025 three-phased national tourism roadmap and a 2021-2035 Siem Reap provincial tourism development master plan – both formally approved by Prime Minister Hun Sen on April 1, 2021 – and guide the sector’s emergence from Covid and support its recovery, the Council of Ministers, or Cabinet, noted in an August 12, 2021 letter.

In a letter dated August 9, 2021, Hun Sen asserted that Mondulkiri’s tourism industry is expanding and has a lot of room to grow, and that the master plan would greatly accelerate economic growth in the province and the rest of the Kingdom.

“With all this potential, and under long-term and comprehensive deliberation, the Royal Government has prepared and launched the Mondulkiri Tourism Development Master Plan, as a compass to indicate the key mechanisms and strategic directions for tourism development in Mondulkiri province, in connection with the vision of national transformation over the 2021-2035 period and many years to come,” he said.

According to the Ministry of Tourism, Cambodia received 1,291,539 international visitors in the first quarter of the year, skyrocketing by 709.51 per cent from 159,546 in the year-ago period, but still down 31.22 per cent from the 1,877,853 recorded in the same time of 2019.

Thailand accounted for the lion’s share of these travellers at 424,241 or nearly 32.85 per cent, followed by Vietnam (207,527; 16.07%), mainland China (132,665; 10.27%), Laos (61,709; 4.78%), the US (54,672; 4.23%), South Korea (52,578; 4.07%), France (33,442; 2.59%), Russia (32,125; 2.49%), the UK (31,057; 2.40%) and Indonesia (30,522; 2.36%).

In the January-March period, 481,582 international visitors flew into Cambodia, representing 37.29 per cent of the total, while 792,432 (61.36%) entered overland, and 17,525 (1.36%) arrived via waterways.