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Gov’t pushes for more air connectivity with Macau

Gov’t pushes for more air connectivity with Macau

With charter air traffic between Cambodia and Macau growing steadily, the government has proposed adding direct scheduled flights to encourage more Chinese tourists and businesspeople to visit the Kingdom.

Prime Minister Hun Sen proposed a direct air link during last week’s Global Tourism Economy Forum in Macau, and authorities in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory have agreed to the proposal, Tourism Minister Thong Kong told the Post.

“Macau agreed to the proposal and said they would consider establishing a direct flight to Cambodia but want to start first with more charter flights or state-subsidised [scheduled service] to ensure the connectivity is there,” Kong said.

While Macau is often described as “Asia’s Las Vegas”, the tourism minister denied the link was aimed at bringing in more Chinese high-rollers to gamble in Cambodian casinos.

“It’s not about linking their casinos to ours – we provide visitors with a free choice and they have options,” Kong insisted. “We cannot say that these tourists come to Cambodia only to gamble in our casinos. Not all Chinese come to Cambodia for gambling.”

Bassaka Air – a joint venture between state-owned Chinese travel firm China International Travel Services and casino and hotel operator Naga Corp – launched charter flights in October 2014. It currently operates two charter flights a week between Macau and Phnom Penh.

Chinese tour operator Ng Tong Mio, a representative of Bassaka in Macau, said the airline has flown more than 50 round-trip charter flights between Macau and Phnom Penh since May and is operating at about 80 per cent capacity. The majority of passengers are Chinese nationals.

“The purpose of serving Macau is to attract Chinese people living in areas close to Macau and to find business opportunities for them to invest in Cambodia,” he said.

Ng said that Bassaka is seeking to increase the number of charter flights, and to serve additional Cambodian destinations.

“We plan to ask permission to have three charter flights per week,” he said. “We want to have one flight daily to Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville respectively.”

Sinn Chanserey Vutha, spokesman for Cambodia’s State Secretariat for Civil Aviation, said the Kingdom would welcome the additional flights and already has a bilateral agreement in place to support them.

“So far we only have charter flights to Macau and vice versa by Bassaka Air a few times a week,” he said. “There is no sign yet of any Chinese airline taking up this route, but there is nothing to stop them from doing so.”

He said that visitors from Macau boiled down to two main types: leisure tourists focused on entertainment services and a small number of investors.

“If we have good strategy, there will be more types of tourists to come,” he said.

According to Tourism Ministry statistics, the number of Mainland Chinese tourists visiting Cambodia increased 26.5 per cent during the first six months of the year to 461,518.

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