Rebounding regional travel to Cambodia has driven a stronger-than-expected recovery in the domestic tourism industry, as Thailand and Vietnam alone accounted for 58.52 per cent of all January-August international visitors here, although a significant return of visitors from more distant locations remains elusive, industry players say.

The comments come after Minister of Tourism Thong Khon on September 9 disclosed that Cambodia is expected to receive between 1.5 and two million international visitors this year, after his ministry revealed the figure for the first eight months of this year, at 998,272, which would imply a pick-up in arrivals over the remaining four months to December.

The January-August figure marks a 720 per cent rise year-on-year, albeit a 77 per cent drop from the same period in 2019, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the ministry, Thailand and Vietnam accounted for the lion’s share of arrivals, at 348,660 and 235,546, respectively, representing year-on-year rises of 477 per cent and 3,017.3 per cent. Also on the list of top source markets were: China, the US, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, France, the UK and Laos.

Thourn Sinan, chairman of the Pacific Asia Travel Association Cambodia Chapter (PATACC), told The Post on September 11 that, as the global tourism industry fails to show truly meaningful improvements, the number of international travellers visiting and doing business in the Kingdom has increased, but remains at less-than-desirable levels that will take more time to reach.

“At the moment, the tourism sector is pinning hopes solely on visitors from within ASEAN, as those from outside the region are still few and far between. Cambodia’s tourism sector is reaping the benefits from intraregional travel,” he said.

Given the global uncertainty posed by Covid-19 as well as political and economic crises, Sinan declined to provide a ballpark estimate for the full year’s number of foreign arrivals.

Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA) president Chhay Sivlin commented that foreign tourists have been steadily trending up since the government moved to allow the resumption of socio-economic activity in mid-November last year, translating into sorely-needed revenues for the tourism sector following more than two years of sharp declines during the Covid era.

Sivlin stressed that she wants the sector to get back on track, commenting that many tourism products nationwide have been designed and developed with the view that inbound tourism growth would be a fairly universal pattern across all source markets.

Still, she hopes that last week’s World Travel Awards and other forms of international recognition would provide Cambodia’s tourism offerings and opportunities more exposure to a wider, global audience.

Sivlin was referring to the World Travel Awards, which the Kingdom won at the International Travel Expo Ho Chi Minh City (ITE HCMC) 2022 on September 7, in two categories: “Asia’s Leading Cultural Destination” and “Asia’s Leading Youth Travel Destination”.

Tourism ministry data strongly suggest that Covid slashed the number of international visitors to Cambodia from each country, resulting in a total of 196,495 last year, which represents an 85 per cent drop from 1.3 million in 2020, and a 97 per cent plunge from the all-time record of 6.6 million logged in 2019.