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Wave of Sihanoukville visitors grows

A Chinese tourist gets a massage at a beach in Sihanoukville earlier this year.
A Chinese tourist gets a massage at a beach in Sihanoukville earlier this year. Sahiba Chawdhary

Wave of Sihanoukville visitors grows

Tourist arrivals to the premiere beach destination in Preah Sihanouk province have increased by nearly 15 percent during the first half of this year reaching 1.2 million visitors, showing that government efforts to make it the next big destination are starting to pay dividends, according to the latest figures from the Tourism Department.

Taing Socheat Kroesna, director of the Preah Sihanouk Provincial Tourism Department, said that the rise in tourists is due to better infrastructure that allows for easier access to Sihanoukville’s beaches.

“Tourists are flocking to our province because we have improved our facilities,” he said. “We now have better roads and an international airport that has several direct flights as well as other amenities.”

Chinese tourists led the pack among foreign tourist arrivals during the first half of 2017 with an astounding 132 percent year-on-year increase, followed by modest rise in the number of British and Vietnamese tourists, he added.

While Preah Sihanouk is often billed as the next big destination after the famed temples of Angkor Wat, Kroesna admitted that he expected the growth to be more pronounced, hopefully rising to more than 17 percent annually.

“Our tourist industry is contributing to state revenue and increasing incomes in the province,” he said. “We also are seeing a lot more locals coming to the province for employment.”

“However, we are still only projecting that tourism growth will stay at about 15 percent annually,” he added.

One thing that has dampened growth is a 12.3 percent decrease in cruise ship arrivals landing at the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port so far this year, with only 24 ships carrying a total of 29,000 passengers docking in the province.

Nevertheless, Kroesna believes that if the department can continue to commit to security and maintaining a clean beach environment, the province will draw in more visitors. In order to shed a previously unsavoury reputation, Sihanoukville has continued to improve upon the accommodations, restaurants, and entertainment it provides its tourists.

“As tourist numbers keep growing year after year, we never lose sight of the importance of security,” he said. “Even as we strengthen the amenities we provide to tourists, we are consistently aware of the safety of our visitors.”

While the increase in tourism is expected and welcomed, there have been challenges that the private sector claims have not been adequately dealt with.

“I am happy to see the growth of tourism so far this year, especially with the growth of Chinese visitors,” said Sinan Thourn, chairman of the Cambodian chapter for the Pacific Asia Travel Association.

“But the challenges still remain for the standards of services, providing a clean safe environment and a lack of trained professionals that continue to plague the province,” he said. “The government needs to take action to address these issues.”

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