As the tourism sector gradually recovers from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, Cambodia has experienced a significant upswing in visitor numbers. 

The nation welcomed over 5.4 million foreign tourists in 2023, marking an almost 140% increase from the previous year. 

The resurgence was largely driven by visitors from four Asian countries, who collectively accounted for 68.9% of all foreign tourists, as reported by the Ministry of Tourism.

According to the ministry, the country received 5,453,231 foreign visitors in 2023, a 139.5% rise compared to 2,276,626 in 2022.

Thailand topped the list with 1,820,460, representing 33.4% of the total, followed by Vietnam with 1,019,812 (18.7%), China with 547,798 (10%) and Laos with 372,285 (6.8%). 

Compared to 2022, the number of Thai tourists rose by 113.3%, Vietnamese by 119.8%, Chinese by a remarkable 412.6% and Lao by 302%.

Other significant countries of origin included the US, South Korea, Indonesia, France, the UK and Malaysia.

Moderate outlook for 2024 

Khieu Thy, president of the Khmer Angkor Tourist Guide Association (KATGA), told The Post of the large rise in visitors to Cambodia in 2023 compared to the period between 2021 and 2022, when the world was grappling with the severe impacts of the Covid-19 crisis. 

He observed that the majority of guests over the past three to four years have predominantly been from neighbouring countries or within the greater Asian region.

According to Thy, the predominance of regional tourists is attributed to sluggish global economic growth, which deters people from travelling long distances and spending excessive amounts of money. 

“In the past year, we witnessed a lot of foreign visitors compared to 2022, but most of [them] were from border or regional countries,” he said.

Thy noted that the numbers still lag behind that of neighbouring countries like Thailand and Vietnam. 

He said the discrepancy suggests a need for concerted efforts from both the government and the private sector to foster an inviting and novel environment to attract more foreign tourists. 

He highlighted that neighbouring countries are implementing new strategies and developing fresh products and resorts to broaden options for visitors and encourage longer stays.

“For 2024, I expect the number of foreign visitors to continue to increase with the majority being from the region. [The sector] still needs more time,” said Thy. 

He cited environmental management, sanitation, infrastructure, security, accommodation, souvenir shops and tourist resorts as key areas to enhance in order to attract more travellers.

Anheng Sokpheak, president of the Siem Reap-based Cambodia Chinese Tour Guide Association (CCTGA), said the number of foreign tourists in 2023, especially Chinese, was substantially higher than in 2022, yet still below pre-pandemic levels. 

He pointed out that the growth in tourism is influenced by the economic situation and availability of international flights. 

“I do not know much about the number of tourists from other countries, but for Chinese tourists, there was an increase compared to 2022 and I hope that this will continue in 2024,” he added.

Direct flights help attract more foreign tourists

Chhay Sivlin, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA), noted a steady increase in the number of foreign tourists visiting the country, particularly in recent months. 

She attributed the positive trend to various local events and an increase in international direct flights to the country.

She pointed out that the majority of the tourists are from neighbouring countries and other parts of Asia.

Sivlin emphasised the significance of new developments, such as the construction of new international airports and improved infrastructure, in attracting a greater number of tourists and investors.

“The number of foreign visitors … has shown a gradual recovery and at present both the leadership of the tourism ministry and the private sector are working hard to attract more foreign tourists,” she said.

According to Angkor Enterprise (AE) – a state body tasked with managing ticket sales at the Angkor Archaeological Park and Chong Khneas floating village in Siem Reap province and Koh Ker temple complex, a new UNESCO World Heritage Site, in neighbouring Preah Vihear province – the Angkor park saw 798,069 foreign ticket purchases in 2023, marking a 177.63% increase compared to 2022. Revenue generated from the sales amounted to $37,198,988, a significant surge of 222.68%.

In addition to the revenue from ticket sales at the park, AE registered 14,806 foreign visitors at the Koh Ker archaeological site, generating $222,090 from admission fees. Ticket sales for boat rides at the floating village of Chong Khneas in Siem Reap contributed another $564,671.