Cambodia’s tourism sector is aiming for a big comeback in 2023, with the Ministry of Tourism announcing a target of 4 million tourist arrivals for the year. This comes after a difficult year in 2021, where the country closed its borders to most tourists due to the pandemic and only 196,000 tourists were able to visit.
However, in 2022, the number of tourists increased significantly to 2.28 million. The optimism for 2023 is based on the expected return of mainland tourists, particularly Chinese tourists, who made up 2.3 of the 6.7 million total visitors to the Kingdom in 2019.
The return of tourists to Cambodia would have a significant impact on the country’s economy. The tourism sector is one of the country’s main sources of income and employs a large number of people.
The sector has been hit hard by the pandemic, with many hotels, restaurants, and tour operators shutting down or reducing their capacity. The return of tourists would help to revive these businesses and create jobs for Cambodians.
Capitalize on the expected influx of tourists
To capitalize on the expected influx of tourists, the Cambodian government is investing in the country’s infrastructure, particularly its airports. The government is currently working on building a new international airport, the Techo International Airport, which is slated to open in late 2024. The new airport will have a capacity for 13 million arrivals, which will increase to 30 million by 2030.
This is a significant increase from the current capacity of the three international airports within the Kingdom, which can only accommodate 10 million arrivals. The cost of building the new airport is around $1.5 billion.
In addition to the new airport, the Cambodian government is also looking to attract Chinese Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the country. This is particularly relevant for the city of Sihanoukville, which is currently dominated by unfinished high-rises and casinos that were once full of Chinese gamblers but now remain largely empty.
Rejuvenating the Sihanoukville city
The city’s airport, Sihanoukville International Airport, which is serviced almost exclusively by Chinese airlines, saw just 1000 arrivals during the height of the pandemic. The government is hopeful that FDI will return to the city.
However, while the Cambodian government is optimistic about the return of Chinese tourists, it is important to note that China has not yet fully reopened for its nationals to travel abroad. Currently, only those with Chinese nationality or those possessing a family or work visa are allowed to enter the country.
Additionally, outbound travel flights remain limited, with even quotas on the number of people who cross the border into Hong Kong. Therefore, while the return of Chinese tourists is expected, it is unlikely to be imminent and may not occur before the summer when the virus is less transmissible.