A senior government leader has described the Kingdom’s latest joint tourism venture as more than a spectacular event, but a symbol of well-planned Cambodian tourism and diplomatic strategies aimed at fostering deeper ties with China.

As he addressed the April 24 grand opening of the “When Shaolin Meets Bokator at Angkor”, Minister of Tourism Sok Soken explained that the occasion was more than a display of cultural heritage; it was a strategic move reinforcing the "Cambodia-China People-to-People Exchange Year 2024”.

Held against the backdrop of the iconic Bayon Temple in Siem Reap province’s Angkor Archaeological Park, the event was chaired by the minister and attended by Sun Shougang, vice-governor of China’s Henan province and Yun Linne, deputy governor of Siem Reap province.

During his speech, Soken emphasised the profound cultural, traditional, and diplomatic relations shared between Cambodia and China, highlighting that such cultural exchanges are pivotal to the ongoing "Belt and Road Initiative" and the strengthening of socio-economic bonds between the two nations.

“This event aligns perfectly with the 'Cambodia-China People-to-People Exchange Year 2024' campaign and plays a crucial role in advancing the Belt and Road Strategy,” he said.

He noted that these ties are not just ceremonial but form a strategic framework aimed at substantial economic benefits, primarily through tourism.

Soken highlighted the strategic initiative “5-Build, 3Ds” and outlined various campaigns aimed at attracting visitors.

“In 2023, Cambodia welcomed 5.4 million international guests, with approximately 540,000 of them coming from China, alongside 18.5 million domestic tourists,” he said.

“The rise in tourist numbers in early 2024 — a 22 per cent increase in foreign visitors, including a 43 per cent rise in Chinese tourists — underscores the success of recent policies and events aimed at making Cambodia a more attractive destination,” he added.

Soken highlighted Cambodia’s readiness to cater to an influx of Chinese tourists and investors by improving the hospitality sector within the country. 

He cited ongoing efforts to fine-tune the local tourism infrastructure and services, ensuring they meet international standards that appeal particularly to Chinese visitors, who are crucial to the tourism sector's growth.

The event also served as an outlet for expressing gratitude towards the administrations of Henan and Siem Reap provinces for their collaboration, he noted. 

Soken described the cross-provincial partnership as not only enriching the tourism experience but also serving as a model for international cooperation in boosting local economies through cultural and people-to-people exchanges.

“I urge the Henan provincial administration to continue promoting Cambodian tourism destinations and facilitating direct flights from Henan province to the Kingdom, especially Siem Reap province. Moreover, I urge your continued support for the 'Cambodia-China People-to-People Exchange Year 2024',” he added.

The government’s ambitious "5-Build" strategy is aimed at bolstering its global tourism standing. The strategy emphasises efficient management, enhanced promotion and improved infrastructure. 

Key developments include strengthening institutional structures, driving digital transformation and comprehensive investment in human resources. Each of these initiatives demonstrates Cambodia's commitment to enhancing tourism competitiveness and sustainability.

Chhay Sivlin, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA), noted a surge in foreign arrivals since the start of 2024. The increase was led by Thai tourists, followed closely by visitors from Vietnam and China. 

“Of the 190,000 Chinese tourists, not all ventured to tourist destinations,” she remarked.

Looking ahead to the remaining quarters of 2024, Sivlin anticipated further growth, particularly with the expansion of flight routes, such as upcoming direct flights from Dubai to Cambodia on May 1.

Additionally, Cambodia Angkor Air now offers direct flights to New Delhi, India, tapping into a vast market.

However, she expressed caution regarding expectations for the Chinese tourism market, due to ongoing restrictions imposed by China. She urged coordinated efforts between the leaders of both countries to facilitate Chinese travel.

Top Sopheak, spokesperson for the Ministry of Tourism, highlighted that “When Shaolin Meets Bokator at Angkor” would not only serve as an event which attracts more Chinese tourists and showcases the cultural richness of the Kingdom’s tourism offerings. It also featured exhibitions of cultural and tourism products from both China and Cambodia.

Sopheak shared the ministry’s expectation that Cambodia will welcome approximately 1 million Chinese guests in 2024.

Following Soken's address, domestic and international visitors were treated to a captivating display of Bokator and Shaolin martial arts performances, set against the majestic backdrop of the Bayon Temple.