Four months on after Cambodia reopened its doors to foreign tourists and investors, recovery in Preah Sihanouk province’s real estate market has failed to gain real traction, according to observers.

Even so, Preah Sihanouk is undergoing an undeniably rapid transformation, underpinned by its designation as a “Model Multi-Purpose Special Economic Zone”, exemplified by a bevy of recently-completed and underway infrastructure projects such as the “34-road project”, an expressway connecting its town Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh, and an expansion of National Road 4.

Global Real Estate Association president Sam Soknoeun told The Post on March 9 that the province’s property market has been relatively quiet since 2019, with market activity down “more than 90 per cent” compared to the 2016-2018 period.

He ascribed the lull to two main factors – the 2019 ban on online gambling that came into effect the following year, and fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“As real estate in Preah Sihanouk had already been quite pricey during 2016-2018, buying has become almost non-existent [among locals]. It may be possible to start things back up if foreign investors, especially the Chinese, were to get back in there,” he said.

But should authorities pursue to revitalise the market, they must come up with innovative strategies to draw more investors and tourists, he suggested.

According to Soknoeun, despite the notable lack in transactions, Sihanoukville property prices are similar to 2018, with land prices as high as $7,000 per square metre in some areas, putting them out of reach for many locals.

“The 2016-2018 period is considered to be the golden age of the real estate and construction market in [Sihanoukville], which at that time had seen unexpectedly rapid growth,”he said.

Lucky Realty CEO Dith Channa said the Preah Sihanouk property market did not experience a significant change between end-2021 and the first quarter of this year. However, he posited, a sizeable uptick in foreign investors and tourists to the province could immediately trigger changes in market prices and activities.

“In the near future, things may change significantly because our country is running on all cylinders, and that includes international flights,” he predicted.

Channa said he had recently gotten word that many foreign investors are interested in forming joint ventures or snatching up stagnant projects for re-development. “As I see it, the real estate sector in Preah Sihanouk will soon gain a burst of momentum, as strong as it had witnessed before [during 2018],” he said.

On March 7, Prime Minister Hun Sen and aviation officials hailed the landing of a business jet at Sihanouk International Airport the night before, the first in several months, as a sign that the coastal province’s economy and tourism is on the rebound.

Speaking at the official opening ceremony of the Cambodia-China Friendship Hospital in Tbong Khmum province, the prime minister welcomed the presence of the commercial aircraft at Sihanoukville’s airport, saying it was an indication that more such flights might follow.

“Last night, for the first time in a few months, a commercial plane landed in Sihanoukville. For a while now, the only landings were in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap province. More landings will allow the economy to resume, even though tourism is not yet widespread,” Hun Sen said.

He used his speech to promote Cambodian tourism and investment, touting what he claimed were the Kingdom’s carefully managed yet nonrestrictive Covid-19 protocols. “Travelling to Cambodia to invest in, and do business, is easy because in Cambodia, there are no quarantine requirements for vaccinated arrivals,” he said.

He noted that quarantine requirements remain for those who are unvaccinated, but for those who have been fully vaccinated, “we just do a rapid test and if a negative result is recorded, we let them continue with their travels”, he said, referring to Covid-19 testing at the Kingdom’s airports.