Cambodia and Vietnam have agreed to open more direct flights between the two countries, with special emphasis on connecting tourist hotspots and jumpstarting travel again.
Likewise, both nations agreed to “make things easier” for arrivals from a third country, as permitted by current Covid-19 health and safety regulations, the Cambodian Ministry of Tourism said in a press release on May 24.
Phnom Penh and Hanoi also reaffirmed their commitment to accelerate the “launch of self-driving tours between the two countries” through more active discussions amongst relevant authorities, the ministry said without elaborating.
In tandem with the anticipated uptick in river-based tourism, the two countries expect cruise lines to start voyages to Kampot International Tourism Port – a 4ha quay in Teuk Chhou district about 6km west of Kampot town – once construction is completed, according to the press release.
Although the quay’s construction was scheduled to be completed in end-2021, a date that was subsequently pushed back to March 30, the project continues to be beset with delays.
The release went on to say that Phnom Penh and Hanoi expressed “a strong commitment” to raising awareness of investment opportunities and facilitating the necessary processes in line with applicable laws, through forums and similar events, among other initiatives aimed at boosting tourism and investment flows between the two countries.
Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA) president Chhay Sivlin welcomed the plans for additional international flights, noting that restrictions imposed in other countries during the Covid-19 pandemic have translated into a limited number of travellers to the Kingdom.
Sivlin believes Cambodian and Vietnamese efforts to encourage international flights would result in a meaningful increase in number of tourists to both countries, among other benefits. “Vietnam is a big market for Cambodia, and travel [between the two] is quite easy, be it by air, waterways or land,” she said.
Since early November when the Cambodian government started its push towards the full resumption of socio-economic activity, Vietnamese tourists have dethroned the Chinese as the Kingdom’s largest group of overseas visitors, she noted.
Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Cambodia chapter chairman Thourn Sinan underscored that neighbouring countries are the most suitable partners for tourism promotion, which he said largely hinges on the availability of commercial flights between them as well as border-crossing rules.
Because of its small size, the Cambodian commercial aviation sector relies heavily on the Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Hong Kong and Singaporean markets, he added. “We have yet to become a regional tourism hub, and thus leaning on our neighbouring countries has become crucial.”
He asked the government to do what it can to curb dependence on other countries for tourism, warning that further entrenchment of the status quo would only lead to more headaches down the road.
Additionally, Sinan said, air links to top Vietnamese and Thai travel destinations will bolster development in Cambodia, and induce more tourism inflows into ASEAN’s second smallest economy in nominal terms.
For reference, the number of international visitors to Cambodia totalled 159,546 in the first quarter of this year, marking a 125 per cent increase from the corresponding period in 2021. More than half of all visitors entered the Kingdom by air, according to the tourism ministry.
The ministry reported that in the January-March period, 86,976 visitors entered Cambodia through its three international airports, an increase of 159.4 per cent year-on-year, and 72,570 arrived either overland or via waterways, up by 94.2 per cent.
And as noted by CATA’s Sivlin, Vietnam emerged as the top source of tourists, at 46,303 over the three-month period, up by 1,188.9 per cent. In second was Thailand, with 39,615, an increase of 12.2 per cent. The only major market to register a year-on-year drop was China’s, with the Kingdom recording 9,753 visitors from the mainland, the ministry said.
The US came in third with 8,820 visitors, up 876.7 per cent, with Indonesia coming fourth at 8,578, or a 268 per cent increase. Other significant sources of tourists were France, South Korea, Malaysia, and the UK.