As Cambodia prepares to host this year’s Mekong Tourism Forum (MTF) in Sihanoukville, Minister of Tourism, Thong Khon, has unveiled Cambodia’s targets for tourism, aviation expansion plans, and encouraging tourists to explore beyond the hubs of Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.
Like many other countries, Cambodia faced huge challenges from the global Covid-19 pandemic. The number of international arrivals dropped from 6.6 million in 2019 to 1.3 million in 2020 and a mere 200,000 in 2021.
However, with Cambodia gearing up to host the SEA Games in May and ASEAN Para Games in June – two major attractions expected to draw scores of international visitors, – Thong said the Ministry has set an ambitious target of four to 4.5 international arrivals in 2023. This is about double 2022’s foreign visitors, which stood at 2.28 million.
Thong added that the Ministry has set a target of attracting five million international visitors in 2024 and seven million in 2025.
“We developed new tourism infrastructure during the pandemic, such as 38 new roads in Siem Reap, the Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville expressway, and the new Siem Reap International Airport, which is due for completion in Q3 this year. The new Techo Takhmao International Airport, south of Phnom Penh is due to complete its first phase in mid-2024,” Thong added.
Thong said by March 2028, the Kingdom plans to have 33 airlines connecting to Cambodia through three international airports, with an average of 494 flights per week, or 988 movements.
“The government aims to boost the influx of international tourists and new airlines by applying tax incentives and reducing or waiving landing fees,” he added. “We are investing a lot in two new airports in Kandal province, just south of Phnom Penh, and Siem Reap.”
He added that key tourism stakeholders have also been working tirelessly during the forced downtime of the pandemic to create products that lure visitors away from the temples of Angkor and encourage them to extend their stay and explore more of Cambodia.
“Initially, foreign tourists visiting Cambodia wished to only see Angkor Wat temple,” Thong said. “Through the preparation of new tour packages, tourists are now starting to enjoy more nature tourism, adventure activities, community-based tourism, ecotourism, and learning about the lives of people and local food. We want to attract tourists away from Angkor Wat to help poorer areas develop.”
Speaking about the forthcoming MTF, Thong said, “MTF plays a vital role where we discuss the critical issues and emerging trends among regional tourism stakeholders. With the theme ‘Rethinking for Resilience and Digitalisation’, forum attendees will discuss sustainable food systems, fostering women’s empowerment, accelerating digitalisation, and upskilling the tourism workforce.”
MTF takes place from April 25 to 27 and will see tourism players from across the region and beyond gather in Sihanoukville for a series of workshops, panel discussions, and networking events. Last year, it was hosted by Vietnam.
“Let’s work warmly and closely together to discuss regional issues and create solutions for further cooperation on sustainable tourism development,” Thong said. “We can do this by promoting tourism potential and more diverse destinations among the six countries of the Greater Mekong Subregion.”