Phnom Penh and Cambodia’s 24 provinces tallied a combined 296,005 domestic tourist trips over the second full week of this month (July 10-16), of which 36,564 or 12.35 per cent were made by foreigners, the Ministry of Tourism said on the 19th.

This corresponds to a 3.43 per cent dip from the 306,516 domestic trips reported for March 13-19 – an average week four months earlier – and a far greater 29.55 per cent slump from the 51,898 attributed to foreign travellers.

However, as analysts have said, the domestic market remains vital to keeping Cambodia’s tourism industry healthy as the world recovers from Covid-19.

In a July 19 statement, the ministry chalked up the decline in part to the July 23 general election and the ongoing campaign season, sharing that most of last week’s trips were made by non-Phnom Penh residents.

As solace, it also noted that the results for the week of July 10-16 showed increases of 3.15 per cent and 1.36 per cent week-on-week in terms of total domestic trips and those made by foreigners, respectively.

Sourced from the 25 tourism departments of Phnom Penh and each province, the ministry statistics rank Preah Sihanouk as the top destination for domestic travellers during the period, with 66,557 trips, of which 4,204 were attributed to foreigners, followed by Battambang (35,664; 610) and the capital (33,211; 22,522).

Next up were: Kampot (27,675; 1,484), Siem Reap (22,535; 5,535), Kampong Speu (14,253; 148), Pursat (11,277; 32), Kep (11,076; 382), Kampong Cham (10,358; 57), Kandal (9,546; 252), Pailin (8,002; 145), Koh Kong (7,345; 167), Oddar Meanchey (5,888; 144), Takeo (5,415; 65) and Banteay Meanchey (4,747; 8).

At the bottom of the list were: Mondulkiri (4,163; 42), Kampong Chhnang (3,456; 35), Preah Vihear (3,108; 138), Kampong Thom (2,898; 210), Ratanakkiri (2,339; 154), Prey Veng (2,146; 3), Stung Treng (1,513; 2), Svay Rieng (1,457; 0), Tbong Khmum (760; 0) and Kratie (616; 225).

It should be noted that the ministry has hinted that statistics for domestic trips may be extrapolations from data provided by managers of tourism-associated establishments and attractions, as well as from related sources.

Speaking to The Post on July 19, Cambodia Association of Travel Agents president Chhay Sivlin remarked that the loosening of Covid-19’s grip on humanity has been accompanied by an overall uptrend in travel to domestic tourist hotspots, especially among Cambodian residents.

Despite not spending as much as their international counterparts, domestic holidaymakers have been crucial to supporting the tourism sector during these Covid years, she stressed.

“Whether rapid or gradual, growth [in domestic tourism] benefits travel industry players. This slow climb is the result of some folks simply being busier, as the rainy season begins in earnest,” Sivlin opined.

An appreciable uptick in visits to the Kingdom’s outdoor leisure travel spots is likely by end-2023, she claimed, pointing out that numerous attractions, as well as roads and other infrastructure, have been developed or improved in the past three years in anticipation of a tourism comeback.

“From what I’ve heard, guests from several countries have been asking questions and booking travel packages with local firms for trips to Cambodia around the end of the year,” she said.

According to the ministry, the provincial-level regions with the largest proportions of domestic trips made by foreigners over July 10-16 were: Phnom Penh with 67.81 per cent, followed by Kratie (36.53%), Siem Reap (24.56%), Kampong Thom (7.25%) and Ratanakkiri (6.58%).

The next few were: Preah Sihanouk (6.32%), Kampot (5.36%), Preah Vihear (4.44%), Kep (3.45%), Kandal (2.64%), Oddar Meanchey (2.45%), Koh Kong (2.27%), Pailin (1.81%), Battambang (1.71%), Takeo (1.20%) and Kampong Speu (1.04%).

Rounding out the bottom of the list were: Kampong Chhnang (1.01%), Mondulkiri (1.01%), Kampong Cham (0.55%), Pursat (0.28%), Banteay Meanchey (0.17%), Prey Veng (0.14%), Stung Treng (0.13%) and Svay Rieng and Tbong Khmum with zero per cent each – even though both border Vietnam.

Thiem Thuong, president of the Siem Reap-based Cambodia Chinese Tour Guide Association, said that the majority of visitors to the northwestern province’s temples are either locals or from Vietnam or Thailand.

He emphasised that, although travellers from these three countries tend not to spend as much as those from farther-flung nations, they have undeniably brought hope to an industry decimated by Covid.

“Despite their small numbers, the return of national and international sightseers is bringing revenues back to those working in the travel business, especially tour guides,” Thuong said.

In a recent report on the Kingdom’s tourism plans through to 2024, tourism ministry permanent secretary of state Tith Chantha revealed that the government expects Cambodians to make 16 million domestic tourist trips this year. As of end-May, that number stood at 10.043 million.

According to the ministry, domestic tourist trips by locals clocked in at 13.934 million last year – representing a weekly average of 273,986 – exceeding 2019’s 11.320 million by 23.10 per cent.