Cambodia's Tourism Ministry has released a white paper for capitalising on the rapid growth in Chinese inbound tourism, with the aim of drawing and catering to roughly 2 million Chinese tourists per year by 2020.
The tourism sector development guide, titled “China Ready for Cambodia Tourism”, includes a five-year strategy for increasing the share of Chinese tourists to the Kingdom to about a third of the overall 7.5 million annual tourists projected by 2020.
Tourism Minister Thong Khon said at the white paper’s release on Monday that despite the swift increase in the number of Chinese tourists visiting Cambodia – ranked second of all travellers in 2015 – the ministry’s focus would be on improving the quality of Cambodia’s tourism product through targeted marketing.
“Marketing Cambodia as a tourist destination in the Chinese market is still limited and tourism facilities are not meeting the expectations of Chinese tourists,” Khon said.
Southeast Asia received close to 13 million Chinese tourists in 2014, with only 560,000 visiting Cambodia, while other neighbouring countries like Thailand and Vietnam received 7.9 million and 1.6 million respectively, he added.
The white paper lists steps to be taken by tourism authorities to facilitate visits by Chinese tourists, such as providing Chinese signage and documents for visa processing, encouraging local use of the Chinese yuan currency, and ensuring that food and accommodation facilities are suited to Chinese tastes.
It points out that the Chinese tend to be high-end tourists. They prefer to stay in four- and five-star hotels, are less price-sensitive than other foreign visitors, and like to shop for expensive brands.
This observation was mirrored by Chea Seng, manager of Hong Yi Travel Service, a travel company that caters to tourists from China and Taiwan, who said the Chinese were big spenders, and enjoyed shopping and nightlife activities while travelling.
“They will spend money if we can create services for them,” he said. “And if they are happy, they will come back again.”
Seng added that reports of dirty cities, bad transportation facilities and too many poorly-trained Chinese speaking guides has deterred many Chinese tourists from visiting Cambodia. They also detest the prevalence of price-gouging and product knock-offs, he said.
Travel industry expert Ho Vandy, an advisor to the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce, said one of the main impediments to luring Chinese tourists to Cambodia was the limited number of direct flights, which makes travel packages more expensive than trips to Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia.
“If there are more direct flights to Cambodia, the price of packages will be lower and more Chinese will come here,” he said.
Vandy said it was critical to understand the specific requirements of Chinese tourists, who would pick the temples of the Angkor Wat complex as their first port of call, followed by other entertainment options like casinos.
Besides providing these services to cater to Chinese preferences, Vandy said there needs to be more cooperation between Chinese tour operators and local operators.
“If all the services are provided by Chinese businesses, Cambodians might lose out, but by cooperating with local businesses it would benefit the Cambodian economy,” he said.
According to the white paper, of the 648 tourist operators in the Kingdom, 33 were Chinese-owned, with Chinese companies owning six hotels and seven restaurants across the country.