The Kingdom’s tourism industry has been urged to use next year’s 7th Ultra-Trail Angkor 2024 as an opportunity to promote the sector, with sporting officials confident the 100km race will attract runners from a number of countries.

Senior Minister Thong Khon, head of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia (NOCC), held a November 7 press conference to detail the January event’s expected contribution to an increase in tourism.

He said the Angkor ultra event – the only one of its kind to be staged in the Kingdom – was first held in 2016.

Organised in collaboration with Edouard George, president of Phoenix Voyages, it has promoted Cambodia to the world, he added.

“We have worked with Phoenix to successfully hold this event before. It boosted informal economic development and promoted the attractive environment of the Angkor Archaeological Park and other heritage sites.

“At this point in time, we need to focus on enhancing tourism promotion as visitor numbers remain low,” said Khon.

He noted that while visitor numbers to the Angkor Park were slowly returning to normal following Covid-19, they were yet to approach those of pre-pandemic times.

Current figures are approximately 30 per cent of the ones recorded in 2019, with roughly 1,800 to 2,000 visitors arriving daily on 18 flights. In 2019, 7,000 to 10,000 landed in Siem Reap daily, with as many as 40 flights scheduled.

Khon, also chair of the Siem Reap-Angkor Tourism Management and Development Commission, explained that the ultra event was an excellent chance to push the province and its temples as an attractive tourist destination because of the many international competitors who will attend.

Phoenix president George pointed out that while the 2016 event drew 232 runners from 26 countries, this year’s post-pandemic 2023 event saw 1,200 entrants from 44 nations.

The 7th Ultra-Trail Angkor will be held on January 27. Competitors can test themselves over a range of distances, including 100km, 64km, 42km, 32km, 18km and 8km.

Registrations are open until January 15 next year, and with almost 1,000 runners already signed up, Khon expected to have 2,000 or more entrants by the time the first starting gun is fire.

“So far, we have 914 entrants from 32 countries registered, so we already know we can use this event to promote tourist destinations in Siem Reap-Angkor to the world.

“I believe that organising these races is very important for the Kingdom’s tourism industry. It also contributes to the conservation and development of our heritage sites,” he said.

George noted that the race has been selected as one of the “World’s Marathons”, adding to its global appeal and ensuring it benefits the Cambodian economy.

He added that most of the international runners would stay in the Kingdom for some time, either before or after the race.

“The participants will also want to go sightseeing, and will need accommodation and food, and not just in Siem Reap, but in Phnom Penh, the coastal areas and other locations.

“Seventy per cent of our competitors are planning to travel on to other tourist destinations in Cambodia.

“We must try to tempt them to stay longer, as this will boost the number of international visitors, and they will tell others about how safe and attractive Cambodia is,” he said.

Vath Chamroeun, NOCC secretary-general, explained that the organising committee would work with the provincial authorities to ensure that medical facilities and staff are on hand for 24 hours during the event, especially for the 100km entrants, who will keep running throughout the night.

“Next year’s event will be even more spectacular, as we have introduced new environmental protections in the Angkor area that will make it even greener and more attractive.

“The natural beauty of the setting will fill the runners with positive emotions and help them keep going, even when they feel they have run out of gas,” he said.