The number of Chinese tourists visiting Cambodia grew by 46 percent last year as China leapfrogged Vietnam to become the top country of origin of visitors to the Kingdom, according the Ministry of Tourism’s annual report.
China sent 1.2 million visitors to Cambodia last year, accounting for more than 21 percent of the total 5.6 million international visitors. That put China well ahead of second-place Vietnam’s 835,335 visitors, Laos’ 502,219 and Thailand’s 394,934.
The total number of tourists visiting Cambodia grew by 11.8 percent, an increase over the 6.1 percent and 7 percent growth rates from 2016 and 2015, respectively. That was largely driven by the boom in Chinese tourists, as the number of Vietnamese tourists – historically the largest group of visitors to Cambodia -- fell by 13 percent compared to 2016.
Ho Vandy, Secretary General of the Cambodia National Tourism Alliance, praised the fact that Chinese tourists were helping grow Cambodia’s tourism sector, but also said that the benefits of Chinese visitors were often concentrated in the hands of Chinese companies and business owners.
“The growth of Chinese tourists doesn’t mean it will bring [Cambodians] good business and increase profits, because most of the investments are done by Chinese people,” he said yesterday. “The government should look at this case to protect the benefits for local businessmen.”
Similar concerns were raised by construction agencies earlier this month after the Land Management Ministry announced an increase in the number of new construction projects. Several company representatives said at the time that the money was largely staying with Chinese companies and not trickling down to Cambodian workers.
Last year also saw a big boost in Cambodia’s tourist traffic coming from Laos, which increased by more than 36 percent, while then number of tourists from neighboring Thailand decreased by about one percent.
The total share of tourists in Cambodia hailing from Europe and the Americas was similar to 2016, with European visitors accounting for 15.3 percent and the Americas holding steady at 7 percent.
Outbound tourists from Cambodia also increased by 22 percent to 1.75 million, which is a slight increase from the 20 percent growth rate in outgoing visitors in 2016.
Men Phearom, director of the planning department at the Ministry of Tourism, said the government expected to host more than 6 million tourists in 2018.
China, which is the number one source of foreign direct investment in the Kingdom, has cultivated an increasingly cozy relationship with Cambodia in recent years. Following the September arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha, China expressed support for Cambodia’s decision to “protect national security and stability”, while the US, EU and Japan all condemned the crackdown.
More recently, a January 11 visit to Phnom Penh by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang resulted in the signing of 19 agreements between the two countries, most of which involved cooperation agreements or Chinese financing for infrastructure projects.