Low cost carrier AirAsia has announced it will resume flights between Sihanoukville and Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, spurring hopes that new life will be breathed into the coastal city and surrounding islands.
From August 1, AirAsia will operate three weekly return flights connecting Sihanoukville with the Malaysian capital. This will be followed by the resumption of two weekly return flights between Sihanoukville and the Thai capital from August 3.
According to a Cambodia Airports’ spokesman, this is a “breakthrough” as currently Sihanoukville International Airport only operates two international flights.
The move has been welcomed by the Kingdom’s tourism players, who say this is a positive first step in attracting international tourists to Cambodia’s coast.
“We can see how developed Sihanoukville is now but there’s not much air connectivity. So, Air Asia is starting at the right time and it’s good news for the tourism sector there,” said Thourn Sinan, chairman of B2B Cambodia and PATA Cambodia Chapter.
“The city is well developed but all hotels are almost empty and restaurants are closing because there’s not many international tourists, they rely on domestic tourists. While there are many products available, the demand is still very little.”
Sinan added that heavy foreign investment has been pumped into Sihanoukville and the islands in recent years. However, due to a lack of demand many of these have stalled or halted.
“If there is no major development in air connectivity, it will take most of the investors a lot longer to recover their investment, or they lose their investment. Having regular flights will motivate developers to continue to invest in the coastal area and islands,” he noted.
“Many investors have received concessions from the government to develop on the islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Salmeom but they haven’t done anything yet. However, if there is more air traffic coming into the city, this may persuade them to continue their development.”
Chhan Sophy, who owns a guesthouse on Koh Rong, also welcomed the news. “It has been hard these last few years with very little business, so any new flights that will bring visitors to the islands is good news. We need to see more connections with other countries in the region too.”
AirAsia will run return flights between Sihanoukville and Kuala Lumpur every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Return flights between Sihanoukville and Bangkok will operate every Tuesday and Saturday.