Cambodia welcomed 1,291,539 international visitors in the first quarter of 2023, ended March 31, more than half (53.69%) of whom were from the Kingdom’s three bordering countries – Thailand, Vietnam and Laos – at 693,477, according to the Ministry of Tourism.

The total marked a 709.5 per cent increase from the 159,546 visitors tallied in the corresponding period last year, but a 31.22 per cent drop from the 1,877,853 recorded for the same time in 2019.

Thailand emerged as the top source market for the January-March quarter with 424,241, up 970.9 per cent year-on-year (yoy) and up 333.2 per cent from the 2019 period, followed by Vietnam (207,527; up 348.2% yoy; up 11.1% vs 2019), mainland China (132,665; up 1260.2% yoy; down 80.6% vs 2019) and Laos (61,709; up 13,170.8% yoy; down 49.2% vs 2019).

Rounding out the top 10 were the US (54,672; up 519.9% yoy; down 30.8% vs 2019), South Korea (52,578; up 1,115.4% yoy; down 45.1% vs 2019), France (33,442; up 386.0% yoy; down 43.7% vs 2019), Russia (32,125; up 5,961.3% yoy; up 32.2% vs 2019), the UK (31,057; up 744.2% yoy; down 47.7% vs 2019) and Indonesia (30,522; up 255.8% yoy; up 98.1% vs 2019).

Speaking to The Post on May 24, Pacific Asia Travel Association Cambodia Chapter chairman Thourn Sinan remarked that tourism volumes and spending have fallen short of projections the world over, particularly when it comes to further-flung travel.

Although noting that there has been a noticeable increase in foreign tourists to the Kingdom since the start of 2022, he pointed out that the majority of them have come from surrounding countries.

Angkor Tourist Guide Association president Khieu Thy remarked that even though there are a lot more international flights to Cambodia than in the previous few years, there are still fewer foreign visitors to the temples in Siem Reap province than there were before Covid-19.

Most of the foreign sightseers have been Thai or Vietnamese, he said, adding that Chinese tourists are still few compared to just before the pandemic, when they made up the majority of foreign visitors.

“Thailand and Vietnam are making up the majority of foreign tourists to Cambodia due to the convenience of their travel options, which include both land and air routes. Cambodia’s tourism sector will need more time to truly draw visitors from far-off countries,” Thy said.

The Kingdom welcomed an all-time record 6,610,592 international visitors in 2019, marking a 6.6 per cent increase over 2018, according to the tourism ministry. The three neighbouring countries accounted for just 26.31 per cent of that, or 1,739,247.

For comparison, that ratio was 61.93 per cent for full-year 2022 (1,409,980 out of 2,276,626) and 53.05 per cent a year earlier (104,246 out of 196,495).

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.