The government aims to transform Sihanoukville into Cambodia’s industrial hub – a “second Shenzhen city”, Ministry of Economy and Finance secretary of state Vongsey Vissoth said.
Located along the coast, Preah Sihanouk province boasts an international airport, a railway line connected to Phnom Penh and the Kingdom’s only deep-sea port.
Its construction sector has attracted billions of dollars in investment over the last few years – most of which comes from China. The casino industry had been booming until last year, with large swathes of Chinese tourists and investors coming in to gamble.
Ministry data shows that it granted licenses to some 163 casinos by the end of April. Of these, some 91 are based in the province.
However, gambling activity has slowed down, following a government directive to ban all forms of online gambling in August.
This led thousands of Chinese nationals to quit the province, leaving behind its now-quiet provincial capital, Sihanoukville, littered with unused buildings.
Speaking at a press conference on Macroeconomic Management last week, Vissoth said the ban had muted the province’s tourism and construction sectors.
However, he said, the government is currently working on infrastructure reconstruction projects in the province.
“We are currently working on building a lot of infrastructures there to make it more attractive.
“We are preparing a master plan for the development of Sihanoukville to become a special economic zone which looks like China’s Shenzhen city.
“We don’t want Sihanoukville to be a ‘casino place’, but an industrial city, which provides technological, economic and tourism services,” he said.
In May, the government commissioned the Urban Planning and Design Institute of Shenzhen to map out the master plan for the provincial capital.
The institute is well renowned for helping craft the 1991 Shenzhen Master Plan which helped transform the sleepy fishing village into a sprawling international metropolis.
Minister of Industry and Handicraft Cham Prasidh, who met with the team tasked with the project, said the master plan is a key roadmap to develop Sihanoukville into a “Second Shenzhen city”, in line with the implementation of the Industrial Development Policy 2015-2025.
Vissoth said: “Of course, it [Sihanoukville] will not be the same as Shenzhen, China, but the core of the master plan is being prepared – using Shenzhen as a model – to turn it into a multi-purpose economic zone and major economic hub that serves as a vital base for exports.
“Look at the city of Shenzhen in 1990. There is a sharp contrast between how it was then and how it is today. The master plan is an important blueprint to determine the course of Sihanoukville over the next 10-20 years,” he said.
In response to the August floods, the government in October commissioned seven companies to reconstruct 34 streets, with a total length of more than 84km, in Sihanoukville and Preah Sihanouk province’s Prey Nop district.
The eight-month project began late in November and is estimated to cost more than $200 million.
Preah Sihanouk provincial governor Kuoch Chamroeun said the province welcomed some two million tourists in 2018.
In June, he said, commercial and service industry establishments in the province numbered 922, of which 98 were hotels, 262 guesthouses, 340 restaurants, 26 bungalows, 39 KTVs, nine discotheques and 62 massage parlours.
Between 2007 and July, 819 projects were approved in the province, of which 218 were between five and 42 storeys tall, he said.