Although tourism in Cambodia has seen a significant revival following a three-year Covid-19-induced lull, foreign arrivals to Preah Sihanouk province – especially mainland Chinese – failed to gain the momentum expected in the first quarter (Q1) of 2023, observers have reported.

Slowly emerging as what some had called a “world-class” coastal retreat for international tourists prior to 2019, the southwestern province welcomed especially large numbers of Chinese mainlanders in the last couple of years before Covid arrived.

Although official first-quarter figures have yet to be posted, Preah Sihanouk provincial Department of Tourism director Taing Sochet Kresna affirmed to The Post on April 5 that the number of foreign visitors to the province over the three-month period “would not be much higher” year-on-year.

Still, Cambodians and foreigners living and working in the Kingdom travel to the province in large numbers every day, amid construction and improvement jobs on roads, beaches and other infrastructure, with the Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway having been opened in October, he said.

“In the first quarter of 2023, most foreign tourists arriving in Preah Sihanouk came by boat, an increase of almost 100 per cent compared to the same period in 2022, but numbers of those travelling by air were minimal.

“Most of the visitors travelling by boat were from the US, Canada, Europe and Australia,” he said, assuring that more international commercial flights to and from Sihanoukville – the provincial capital – are expected to be launched throughout the year.

Pacific Asia Travel Association Cambodia Chapter chairman Thourn Sinan similarly confirmed that mainland Chinese and other foreign arrivals to the Kingdom have been limited.

“However, for the whole of 2023, I believe there’ll be a lot of foreign tourists coming here,” he said with a dose of optimism.

On January 6, Minister of Tourism Thong Khon affirmed to local media that Cambodia is “ready” to welcome back mainland Chinese visitors, presenting an estimate for the 2023 total at about “one million” or a “10-fold” increase over 2022, which he noted was out of the “3.5-to-four million” foreign arrivals expected this year.

To achieve these tentative targets, the minister said, the Cambodian government and private sector have developed more roads and set up more entertainment venues and facilities. “We have clear plans and programmes” prepared to cater to Chinese tourists, he added.

Last year, Cambodia welcomed almost 2.277 million international visitors, representing a 65.56 per cent fall from the all-time high of 6.611 million in 2019, albeit an increase by a factor of 11.59 on 2021, Ministry of Tourism statistics show.

Of the total international visitors, the majority had their purpose of visit marked as “holiday”, at 1.767 million or 77.60 per cent, followed by “business” (431,000; 18.93%) and “others” (79,049; 3.47%).

Although mainland China had accounted for a 35.73 per cent share of all international arrivals to the Kingdom in 2019, at 2.362 million (1.299 million holiday; 1.046 million business; 16,254 others), that proportion fell to just 4.69 per cent last year, at 106,875 (28,837 holiday; 77,595 business; 443 others), largely seen as a result of Beijing’s “dynamic zero-Covid” policy.

In 2022, mainland China was the third largest source market after Thailand with 853,376 (819,081 holiday; 32,659 business; 1,636 others) and Vietnam with 463,995 (345,459 holiday; 117,948 business; 588 others), which were respectively up 82.93 per cent and down 48.94 per cent from their corresponding 2019 figures.

In January 2023, Cambodia welcomed 402,943 international visitors (325,168 holiday; 65,065 business; 12,710 others), down 37.74 per cent from January 2019’s 647,206 (564,406 holiday; 59,533 business; 23,267 others).

Most arrived by land, at 254,501 or 63.16 per cent, which was up 16.03 per cent on January 2019, followed by air (143,171; 35.53%; down 64.51%) and waterways (5,271; 1.31%; down 78.45%). Air arrivals through Sihanouk International Airport stood at 1,321, down 95.19 per cent from the January 2019 figure.