Tourism to the Kingdom’s northeast corridor could experience a remarkable metamorphosis after the government decided in principle of a Chinese company to study and develop a proposal to build a regional-level airport in Mondulkiri province, according to industry insiders.
The Council of Ministers said in a December 31 letter that Powerchina International Group Ltd would have to cover the cost of the project’s feasibility study which is to be conducted by the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA).
The letter was signed by the council’s permanent secretary of state Hing Thoraksy and addressed to the ministers of Economy and Finance; and Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, the SSCA and Mondulkiri provincial governor.
The government also authorised the SSCA to lead preparation of a Framework Agreement with Powerchina in accordance with applicable procedures for the Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh-Bavet expressway projects.
Sin Chansopheap, owner of Chomkatae Bungalows in the Mondulkiri provincial capital of Sen Monorom town, said the new airport will attract more tourists to the province.
She pointed out that during the year-end holidays (from December 31 to January 2) a relatively large number of local families chose Mondulkiri as their destination, with many staying in hotels and guesthouses, while others opted to pitch their own tents.
“When the Mondulkiri airport launches, I believe that the number of tourists – especially international ones – coming through here will see high growth as it is a natural tourist destination,” Chansopheap said.
Meanwhile, Daly, assistant manager of Mayura Hill Resort, said new infrastructure would also make Mondulkiri more attractive for tours.
While there are plenty of tourists now, she noted that most are local.
“I expect that when Covid-19 is under control and there is another airport, the number of tourists to Mondulkiri will highly increase, as there’ll be more attractions to visit, with 100 per cent natural beauty,” said Daly, who gave only her first name.
Mondulkiri provincial Department of Tourism director Ngin Sovimean said that while Covid-19 continues to drastically reduce the number of international arrivals to the Kingdom, the number of locals showing up to the province for the new year’s countdown grew by about 2.7 per cent year-on-year.
He said: “Mondulkiri is a natural tourist destination, so although the number of international visitors has decreased significantly, the province welcomed a total of 11,004 tourists over the three days from December 31, 2020 to January 2, 2021.”
SSCA spokesman Sin Chansereyvutha could not be reached for comment on January 3.
However, Mondulkiri provincial governor Svay Sam Eang said in mid-2020 that provincial authorities are demarcating a 600ha plot for the new airport some 22km from Sen Monorom town, while the existing airfield just north of town is planned to be developed as a public park.
He said the old airfield dates back to 1979 when Cambodia was liberated from the Khmer Rouge, but noted that it is too small and the surrounding area is occupied by too many residents for it to be developed into an effective airport for the modern age.
“The new site is about 22km away from Sen Monorom town to O’Raing district’s Sen Monorom commune, [and the project] is an endeavour to expand the scale of domestic and international air traffic and will depend on study of technicians and relevant ministries,” Sam Eang said.
Mondulkiri is designated by the government as the Kingdom’s fourth economic pole, following Phnom Penh and the provinces of Preah Sihanouk and Siem Reap.