As Cambodia enters peak tourist season, industry insiders say they expect foreign visitor numbers to continue to rise after a record-setting 2017, but exhort a need to keep up with infrastructure improvements and adapt to the needs of a now significantly Asia-centric visitor base.
Cambodia welcomed a landmark 1 million Chinese tourists over the course of 2017, with the numbers of Chinese visitors climbing by over 45 percent in a single year. In the first 10 months, the Kingdom welcomed nearly 5 million tourists, a 10 percent increase in foreign visitors from the same period in 2016, according to a report from the Ministry of Tourism.
According to Men Phearom, director of planning at the Ministry of Tourism, Cambodia’s tourism industry is projected to continue to grow in 2018, welcoming at least 6 million international visitors and reaching an anticipated $4 billion in revenue, while also catering to 15 million domestic tourists.
“We keep increasing direct flights to Cambodia, so tourist arrivals are increasing year by year,” he said. “However, we worry that global issues – like airplane failure, ISIS attack or problems with North Korea – will impact our tourist industry.”
He added that Cambodia needed to continue strengthening security to encourage safety across the sector.
Ho Vandy, adviser to the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce and president of World Express Tour and Travel, said that even though tourist numbers had increased, the sector had difficulty marketing itself to international visitors.
“It was a bit tough to promote tourism in Cambodia in 2017 because of the political situation,” he said, referring to the tumultuous political climate that saw Cambodia’s main opposition party dissolved in November, months before the national elections. “But it should be better in 2018,” he added.
Nevertheless, he urged that the tourism sector needed to improve infrastructure for domestic tourism, enforce traffic laws, and create more domestic airports for ease of travel around the Kingdom.
Harry Greig, marketing manager at the Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra Hotel, said a rise in corporate travellers had driven an increase in visitors to the high-end hotel in 2017.
“China in particular played a significant role in this growth, with an overall 51 percent increase in Chinese clientele and a 300 percent increase in business groups originating from mainland China,” he said. He added that Asia accounted for 75 percent of visitors to the hotel, with Europeans accounting for only 11 percent as the property’s second-strongest market.
Chim Sophal, owner of Happy Herb Pizza restaurant along Phnom Penh’s riverside, said he was struggling to adapt to the changes in tourist demographics since the establishment of his restaurant in 1995.
“I lost money every month this past year,” he said. “Without the Westerners coming to Cambodia, it’s hard to continuing operating. Now it’s mostly Chinese, and they don’t come here.”
While the Kingdom’s top five markets for foreign tourism were once dominated by Western countries, with the US, France and the UK ranking near the top throughout the early 2000s, visitors now overwhelmingly come from Asian countries. The US, France and the UK have been supplanted instead by China, Vietnam, Laos, South Korea and Thailand.