Cambodia welcomed 447,186 foreign visitors from the three bordering countries – Laos, Thailand and Vietnam – in the first two months of 2023, up 746.32 per cent year-on-year from 52,839, and even up 59.73 per cent from 279,968 in the same period of 2019, according to the tourism ministry.

Travellers from these three nations accounted for 53.40 per cent of the total 837,446 international visitors over the two-month period, the latter of which was up 778.55 per cent year-on-year from 95,321, but still down 32.72 per cent from the 1.245 million recorded in the same time of 2019.

In the January-February period, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos were respectively Cambodia’s first, second and fourth largest source markets for visitors at 274,950, 131,196 and 41,040, which were up 297.34 per cent, up 5.58 per cent and down 52.56 per cent from the corresponding period in 2019.

Mainland China was Cambodia’s third largest source market, at 79,435, with the fifth-through tenth spots taken by South Korea (39,522), the US (36,585), France (22,748), Russia (21,631), Indonesia (19,883), and the UK (19,549).

Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA) president Chhay Sivlin told The Post on April 6 that in the “early stages” of post-Covid-19 tourism recovery, the local industry must rely heavily on regional countries, especially the trio of bordering nations.

Their relatively effective Covid management, proximity to Cambodia, and ease of cross-border travel position Laos, Thailand and Vietnam as major source markets for travellers, she noted.

The current tourism situation will continue for quite a while, until economic growth is firmly rooted in major, more distant countries, she argued.

“In this context, where global economic growth is not yet strong enough, tourism will depend mainly on neighbouring countries, especially the bordering nations,” Sivlin said, although she predicted that tourism inflows from mainland China will pick up significantly from now on.

A tourism pilot programme launched on February 6 is tipped to be a main driving force behind Chinese travellers flocking to Cambodia – in which Beijing allows travel agencies to provide international group tours as well as flight and hotel packages to Chinese citizens, covering Cambodia and 19 other countries, according to China’s tourism ministry.

The other 19 nations chosen for the programme, which follows a three-year ban, were Argentina, Cuba, Fiji, Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia, Kenya, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, New Zealand, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.

For reference, tourism ministry statistics show that Cambodia in 2019 welcomed an all-time record 6.611 million international travellers – up 6.60 per cent on 2018 – of which 1.739 million or 26.31 per cent were from Vietnam (908,803), Thailand (466,493) or Laos (363,951).

In 2022, Cambodia received nearly 2.277 million international visitors – up 1,059 per cent from 196,495 in 2021 – of which 1.410 million or 61.93 per cent were from Thailand (853,376), Vietnam (463,995) or Laos (92,609).

Of 2021’s total international visitors, 104,246 or 53.05 per cent were from Thailand (81,844), Vietnam (22,120) or Laos (282).