Prominent members of Cambodia’s tourism sector have sought assistance from the government and institutions to investigate new strategies to attract increased cruise ship berthing in Preah Sihanouk and capitalise on the large spending potential of the notably wealthier passenger demographic.

During a virtual meeting between the Ministry of Tourism and private sector representatives to discuss the coastal province’s tourism market sources on February 28, Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA) president Chhay Sivlin said that it is necessary to study and develop more tourism strategies for the country’s coastline in order to attract cruise passengers in particular as they have big spending potential.

A focus on cruises would be the most efficient way to increase the profitability and attractiveness of Cambodia’s tourism sector overall, she said.

The tourism market for Preah Sihanouk currently consists primarily of visitors from ASEAN due to the relative flexibility and short notice required to travel to Cambodia, Sivlin added.

But she noted that data from the 40th ASEAN Tourism Forum – which Cambodia organised in the province in January – revealed that a significant number of tourists from further afield such as Europe also expressed interest in visiting the Kingdom.

Sivlin sought the expertise of tourism-adjacent institutions to learn more about the various means of attracting cruise tourists. “In the past, even though there were ships docked at our port, only a few tourists came ashore to visit Cambodia, and even so, they spent very little time visiting compared to [when they docked in] other countries,” she said.

Sivlin also proposed the introduction of a “visa-on-arrival” scheme specifically for cruise tourists.

Cambodia has been a full member of the World’s Most Beautiful Beaches Club since 2011. Since then, the Kingdom’s 440km long coastline – covering the four provinces of Preah Sihanouk, Koh Kong, Kampot and Kep – has been dubbed a “rising star” in the southwest region.

Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Cambodia chapter chairman Thourn Sinan, who also attended the meeting, said that tourist boat arrivals remain relatively rare in spite of the Cambodian coastline being recognised for its beauty and white sandy beaches.

He echoed Sivlin’s belief that Cambodia’s tourism sector would benefit from more international cruise ships docking, as “cruise tourists are generally older people with higher incomes and [who take] longer holidays”.

He told The Post on March 1: “In the past, the number of ship visitors to Cambodia was small. But one thing we need to know and remember is that ship passengers are the ones who spend a lot of money, so the more visitors [arrive] by boat, the more it will benefit the national economy.”

Preah Sihanouk provincial Chamber of Commerce president Vann Sokheng said that his team had previously collaborated with neighbouring countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and Laos to arrange multi-stop tourism packages, but that these had been interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

As the current situation eases, he says, his team will push for the multinational arrangements, as well as local tourism, to resume. “We cannot wait for [tourists] to visit our country, but we have to prepare a ‘ready’ package before we invite them, to best capitalise on their spending power,” he said.

Tourism ministry undersecretary of state Sok Sangvar agreed, adding that he recognised it would be necessary for the state and the private sector to cooperate on launching new schemes and projects in order for tourism to function efficiently.

Sangvar highlighted Cambodia’s success in Covid-19 crisis management, saying that effective measures led to the Kingdom being the first country in Southeast Asia to have reopened to visitors without quarantine requirements.

He added that having been encouraged by responses to the ASEAN Tourism Forum, Southeast Asian and European markets are the first destinations being targetted by the ministry for Preah Sihanouk-based tourism during the initial phase of industry restoration. He reminded private sector leaders to also consider promoting and coordinating appealing tour packages to entice more cruise tourists.

In 2021, international tourists reached 196,495, marking an 84.96 per cent drop from 1,306,143 a year earlier, of which air, land and inland waterway arrivals stood at 99,829 (down 86.8 per cent), 96,478 (down 80 per cent) and 188 (down 99.6 per cent), tourism ministry data show.