Cambodia welcomed 1,721,668 international visitors in the first four months of 2023, primarily from the region, marking a more than seven-fold increase from 241,485 in January-April 2022, according to the Ministry of Tourism on June 14. In particular, this is 71.28 per cent of the 2,415,509 registered during the same time in 2019.

Thailand accounted for the most visitors at 570,021, which was up 348.54 per cent from the 127,085 logged during the same period of 2019, followed by Vietnam (289,643; +9.00%; 265,728), mainland China (184,009; -79.26%; 887,039) and Laos (80,538; -48.02%; 154,943).

Next on the list were: the US (69,211; -29.03%; 97,526), South Korea (64,098; -42.28%; 111,044), France (41,811; -41.60%; 71,589), Indonesia (40,411; +90.23%; 21,243), the UK (39,994; -44.77%; 72,410) and Russia (39,569; +40.38; 28,188).

Most visitors entered the Kingdom overland, at 1,065,566 or 61.56 per cent more than the 659,561 tallied in January-April 2019. Arrivals by air and waterways stood at 634,028 and 22,074, respectively down 62.17 per cent and down 72.37 per cent from 1,676,058 and 79,890 in the corresponding 2019 period.

April made up 24.98 per cent of the four-month total at 430,129, which was down 20.00 per cent from the 537,656 in April 2019 and down 5.28 per cent from the 454,093 in March 2023. Thais also accounted for the lion’s share of visitors that month at 145,780 or 33.89 per cent.

A visitor in the context of these statistics is a person travelling to the Kingdom, “staying at least overnight and not exceeding a specific period for leisure, recreation, business and other legal tourism purposes; and not relevant to the purpose of permanent residence or any remunerated activities”, as defined by the ministry.

Speaking to The Post on June 14, Pacific Asia Travel Association Cambodia Chapter chairman Thourn Sinan lamented that numbers of international visitors have been lower than anticipated, particularly from farther-flung countries.

“The majority of travel occurs to neighbouring countries during times of weak economic growth and household incomes. This explains why there are so few foreigners travelling to Cambodia, especially from China,” he said.

Sinan commented that the recent Southeast Asian (SEA) Games and ASEAN Para Games hosted by Cambodia were a “good” avenue to market and boost the tourism potential of the Kingdom, but cautioned that it may take more than six months after the closing of the regional sporting events for tangible results to emerge.

Cambodia Chinese Tour Guide Association (CCTGA) president Thiem Thuong pointed out that most tourists this year have come from bordering countries, while Chinese sightseers, who dominated the market pre-Covid-19, are still rather scarce.

“The number of Chinese tourists visiting Siem Reap is still small, but there have been a flurry of tourism-related inquiries made to tour guides and companies,” he said, stressing that international visitors have been a lifeline for tour guides and other industry players.

The tourism ministry reported that Cambodia received 2,276,626 international visitors in 2022, marking a 65.56 per cent fall from the all-time high of 6,610,592 in 2019, but an 11.59-fold increase against 2021.

Thailand emerged as the top source of tourists at 853,378, followed by Vietnam (463,995) and China (106,875). In 2019, mainland China held the top spot, representing 2,361,849 or 35.73 per cent of all foreign visitors.

Historical data from 2004-2019 reveal that January-April accounted for an average of 35.4241 per cent of the total number of international visitors for the entire year (this falls to 35.2196% after excluding the 2008 rate of 38.49 per cent, which was almost a statistically significant outlier).

This provides a ballpark estimate of 4.860 million for the full-year 2023 figure, which is greater than the ministry’s prediction of four million.

Notably, none of the anticipated gains from the post-Covid recovery, “Visit Cambodia Year 2023” campaign, or Southeast Asian (SEA) Games or related events scheduled for May or June are considered in this evaluation.