Cambodia is expected to welcome one million international tourists and tally eight million domestic trips by end-2022, according to new estimates from the tourism ministry – which have been met with mixed reactions amongst industry experts, who warn that many global factors may cast a cloud on the optimistic projections.

According to a Ministry of Tourism press release on the status of Cambodia’s tourism sector, the tourism situation is continuing to improve and is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2023 for domestic trips, with 11 million anticipated, and 2025 for international tourists, with seven million expected by then.

The ministry also announced its tourism figures for the year thus far, noting that in the first four months of 2022, Cambodia received 241,485 international tourists, an increase of 191.5 per cent year-on-year, and logged 5.04 million domestic trips, rising 161.5 per cent from last year’s figures.

Of the international tourists, 131,864 tourists entered the Kingdom by air, marking a 243.9 per cent rise, while 106,614 arrived through overland means, rising by 135.6 per cent. Just 3,007 arrived via waterways.

The ministry said it estimates that tourist numbers will recover “rapidly” from August, and announced that Cambodia’s priority tourism markets were ASEAN, East Asia, the US and the EU.

Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Cambodia chapter chairman Thourn Sinan said he agreed with the ministry’s forecast, with the caveat being the re-emergence of a deadlier strain of Covid-19 and the expansion of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

He noted that the reopening of neighbouring countries’ borders have meant that the predictions would be achieved without issue.

“I think the [projected] figures would be possible if the situation is as it is today, with the borders of neighbouring countries remaining open. Recently, the influx of Vietnamese and Thai visitors has been large,” he said.

However, Sinan said that outbreaks of Covid-19 locally and globally would be a concern for the industry. Although Cambodia has reported no cases of Covid-19 infection for over 10 days, he noted that in Vietnam, Thailand and parts of Europe there are still outbreaks and deaths from the virus on a daily basis.

Cambodia Hotel Association vice-president Clais Chenda told The Post that the tourism ministry’s forecast was encouraging, but noted that the hotel sector had only met with a “small increase” in occupancy rates since the government reopened the country in November.

She said it has not been possible to attract domestic tourists because Cambodians’ incomes have not been favourable in the past two years, having been reduced or, in some cases, lost completely. As a result, holidays have been curtailed or cut out entirely. Business owners have also been busy rehabilitating their enterprises, and holidays have become only day trips, she said.

Chenda added that hoteliers across the country are continuing to face financial troubles stemming from Covid-19.

“However, I still hope the ministry’s forecast comes true. We are happy that it’s positive, because we have been sinking for more than two years. It’s hard to live. And if you try to borrow money from the bank to restart a business, no bank will accept you,” she said.

Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA) president Chhay Sivlin struck a more optimistic note, saying that the ministry’s forecast was achievable according to actual tourist flows in the first four months of 2022, where Cambodia received more than 200,000 international guests after it had just reopened.

She suggested that tourism numbers would increase in due course after accounting for the lead time needed to plan holidays before embarking on them.

“I agree with the ministry’s forecast, because in 2025, there will be more tourists. From looking at some countries in the ASEAN region, trying to reopen and also resume flight operations, I’m confident that in the next three years, it will recover,” she said.