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Ready for a tourism takeoff

Eric Delobel, CEO of Cambodia Airports, talks to the Post on Wednesday in Phnom Penh.
Eric Delobel, CEO of Cambodia Airports, talks to the Post on Wednesday in Phnom Penh. Hong Menea

Ready for a tourism takeoff

Cambodia’s impressive tourism growth has seen new records set year after year at the Kingdom’s three international airports. Cambodia Airports, the French majority-owned company that operates these airports, recently completed major expansions at Phnom Penh and Siem Reap to accommodate the anticipated growth in tourist arrivals by air. The Post’s Kali Kotoski sat down with Eric Delobel, the CEO of Cambodia Airports, to discuss the future of air connectivity.

What potential do you see for passenger growth at Cambodia’s airports?

I think there is still a big potential within Cambodia, but it is also important to look back over the last 10 years when we have had an average growth rate of 10 per cent every year. That is rather amazing.

But my first objective is to make sure that the traffic will grow within our three international airports of Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. We had nearly 6.5 million passengers in 2015, which represents a growth rate of 13 per cent compared to 2014, and that is impressive.

What are your growth projections for this year?

Regarding Phnom Penh, we are still seeing growth of around 9 per cent so far. As for Siem Reap, we are more or less on the same trend of year-on-year growth close to 9 per cent, while year-to-date is more like 2 to 3 per cent growth. And for Sihanoukville, just taking the month of July into account compared to the same time last year, we are growing at more than 50 per cent.

Do you see Sihanoukville as the next growth destination?

We strongly believe that there is a great potential in the Sihanoukville region. But of course, we have to work with all the stakeholders to reveal it. However, with the Cambodia Angkor Air flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Sihanoukville that launched in June, we set a positive example of how we could operate flights five times a week.

But Cambodia’s biggest challenge is to sell the country as more than just Angkor Wat. While Angkor Wat is the country’s best known landmark, we need to make sure it is not the only destination.

Phnom Penh and Siem Reap international airports just completed a massive expansion earlier this year. How significant is that development?

It needs to be underlined that we have doubled the capacity of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. We can now welcome 5 million passengers in both airports. But another part of this is that a lot of the development is going toward improved quality of service. With the $100-million investment into the expansion, we have the ability to improve the image of the airport and customer satisfaction.

Are there plans for future expansion?

The 5 million passenger capacities at Siem Reap and Phnom Penh provide us with a good standing for the medium term. Now our biggest challenge is opening up new destinations, like the direct flight between Tokyo and Phnom Penh that will begin on September 1. This flight took a lot of work to achieve, but it is a logical flight because Japanese make up the third largest arrivals after China and South Korea.

As for airport infrastructure we are talking about expanding the runway in Sihanoukville. But that is in the early stages. However, we are discussing the potential of a terminal expansion there that could begin by the end of this year.

Are there plans to establish more direct flights to other cities?

I can’t disclose the discussions we have with airlines and companies. But what I can say is that we are primarily targeting the Asia-Pacific region and a few outside airlines as well. However, we need to see if those flights are economically viable.

The government is considering building another airport for Phnom Penh. What are your thoughts on this?

It is quite normal to have close discussions with the government about this regarding the long-term vision for an international airport, but it is important to note that we just doubled the capacity in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh this year.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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