The upcoming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games and ASEAN Para Games, to be hosted by Cambodia from May to June in a historic first, are expected to appreciably drive up demand for certain products and services as well as boost overall spending over their duration, injecting additional growth into the economy, according to local economists.

Some have suggested that, with the government shouldering many of the costs associated with these events that would typically be paid by athletes, their delegations, spectators and other stakeholders, spending could get a considerable lift and potentially make up for lost revenues.

To recap, CAMSOC-CAMAPGOC, the organising committees for the 32nd SEA Games and the 12th ASEAN Para Games in Cambodia – considered collectively, has announced that admission to the opening and closing ceremonies of both Games, as well as tickets to all associated sporting events, will be free of charge for everyone – both locals and foreigners.

The committees have also announced an unprecedented decision to waive the daily $50 meal and accommodation fee that at previous editions was charged to each member of participating countries’ sports delegations in both Games. Additionally, neither local nor foreign TV stations will be charged for broadcasting rights, according to them.

This comes despite estimates that the events will set the Kingdom back “no less than $200 million”, as revealed by Ministry of Economy and Finance permanent secretary of state Vongsey Vissoth at a January 25 public forum on macroeconomic management and the 2023 budget law.

Local economist Ngeth Chou commented that the free admission would bring in additional spectators, who he noted will have to pay out of pocket for specific necessities and extra treats.

People queued to get free tickets for the first football match of the SEA Games. BTV

“The free admission could bring in throngs of people, and motivate them to spend on different travel, accommodation and meal options – be they local or foreign guests – which they’ll have to cover on their own,” he said, underscoring that a variety of facilities and services could see meaningful increases in demand in the coming months.

“This’ll be a great propulsive force for economic activity,” Chou enthused, remarking that the state covering the cost of admission and other expenses constitutes government expenditure, which as he pointed out, does contribute to gross domestic product (GDP) – a rough gauge of economic performance.

Royal Academy of Cambodia (RAC) economics researcher Ky Sereyvath echoed Chou’s sentiment that the increased people movement and heightened spending will drive economic momentum, adding that the events will promote investment and tourism into the Kingdom.

Sereyvath recommended that souvenirs linked to the SEA Games and ASEAN Para Games include a splash of local flavour unique to Cambodia, otherwise visitors “may not buy, and that may not be in our economic interests”.

“The government and private sector should gear up to cash in on this while we provide free admission, but give people reasonably-priced souvenirs to buy,” he said.

The inaugural hosting of the Games is seen as a prime opportunity to showcase the Kingdom’s tourism strengths, as part of its “Visit Cambodia Year 2023” campaign – which puts a sizeable focus on sport – as well as its target to draw in 4.0-4.5 million foreign visitors this year.

For reference, the Kingdom welcomed 837,446 international visitors in the first two months of 2023, and given that January and February accounted for an average of 18.731 per cent of the full-year total during the 2004-2019 period, this offers a ballpark estimate of 4.471 million for this year’s figure – without even factoring in the Games.