Cambodia is working to develop more facilities for Chinese tourists, including an accreditation system for tourism establishments, as part of its “China-Ready” strategy announced in May.
Tourism Ministry spokesman Tith Chantha said yesterday that Chinese tourists present a huge opportunity for Cambodia’s tourism industry as the Asian giant’s population and income levels continue to rise. Speaking at the opening of the CamFood and CamHotel exhibitions in Phnom Penh, he said about 130 million Chinese go abroad each year and this number was expected to reach 200 million by 2020.
The goal of the Kingdom’s China-Ready strategy is for Cambodia to attract 2 million of these Chinese tourists a year by 2020.
“It is vital for Cambodia to act on the opportunity and potential of Chinese tourism and we have prepared our China-Ready strategy in order to attract Chinese to visit our country,” he said.
“We are now trying to build the capacity of our hospitality services.”
Cambodia received 3.7 million international tourist arrivals during the first nine months of the year and expects to receive 5 million tourists this year.
Last year, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Cambodia grew 14 percent to 700,000. This year the figure is expected to be closer to one million, according to Chantha.
He said the China-Ready strategy, which is managed by its own department in the Tourism Ministry, is looking to improve facilities for this fast-growing segment.
“China-Ready will insure that all services in the tourism sector have Chinese-language facilities, such as Chinese speakers on site or menus in Chinese, and [establishments that provide these services] will have a sign that the facility is accredited as China-Ready to provide comfort and convenience to Chinese visitors,” he explained.
He added that the name of the tourism establishment should also be translated into Chinese on its signage in order to attract Chinese tourists.
Sinan Thourn, chairman of the Cambodian office for the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), said it was vital that the China-Ready promote the use of Chinese language in the tourism sector as most Chinese visitors do not speak a common tongue such as English.
“China-Ready is a program to promote the use of Chinese language as a facility for Chinese tourists in our tourism sector as English is not as widely spoken in China as it is among the Cambodian people,” he said.
“We hope this will encourage more Chinese tourists to visit Cambodia.”
The most important element to attracting Chinese tourists, according to Chantha, is human resources. He said the Tourism Ministry has recognised this and plans to establish vocational training centres in Siem Reap and Sihanoukville next year to improve the skills of workers in the tourism industry, including language proficiency, and will also cooperate with private vocational schools nationwide.
Experts have said the continued rapid growth of tourism, especially Chinese tourists, could put a strain on the Kingdom’s human resources. Tourism Ministry officials expect the number of Cambodians working in the tourism industry to increase to between 800,000 and one million by 2020, from about 680,000 today.
Not everyone is convinced of the China-Ready strategy. Khiev Thy, head of the Angkor Tour Guide Association in Siem Reap, said the Tourism Ministry should not be so focused on Chinese tourists, whose contribution to the local economy is relatively limited.
“European tourists generally spend much more money than Chinese tourists,” he noted. “When Chinese tourists come they typically come in a group with one guide and one driver. But when Europeans come they arrive as individuals and pay a lot more into the local tourism sector.”
Thy said Chinese-speaking local guides already cater to the flow of Chinese tourists, and from an economic point of view, it would make more sense to adopt an “International-Ready” strategy.