Cambodia welcomed nearly 2.277 million international visitors in 2022, representing a 65.56 per cent drop from record-breaking 2019 but an increase by a factor of 11.59 over 2021, which by many accounts was the worst year for the local tourism sector in recent memory due to the Covid-19 downturn.
Although mainland China had accounted for a 35.73 per cent share of all international arrivals to the Kingdom in 2019, that proportion dropped to just 4.69 per cent last year at 106,875, largely seen as a result of Beijing’s “dynamic zero-Covid” policy. This is according to statistics published by the Ministry of Tourism.
Of the total international visitors, the majority had their purpose of visit marked as “holiday”, at 1.767 million or 77.60 per cent, followed by “business” (431,000; 18.93%) and “others” (79,049; 3.47%). Most arrived by land at 1.467 million or 64.44 per cent, which was down 28.42 per cent from 2019, followed by air (791,603; 34.77%; down 82.03%) and waterways (17,866; 0.78%; down 88.61%).
Mainland China was the third largest source market after Thailand with 853,376 (819,081 holiday; 32,659 business; 1,636 others) and Vietnam with 463,995 (345,459 holiday; 117,948 business; 588 others), which were respectively up 82.93 per cent and down 48.94 per cent from their corresponding 2019 figures.
Interestingly, Indonesians too visited the Kingdom in greater numbers, at 75,653 (20,328 holiday; 55,107 business; 218 others) last year versus 66,804 (38,530 holiday; 26,410 business; 1,864 others) in 2019.
Speaking to The Post on January 18, Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA) president Chhay Sivlin commented that “positive signs” for the tourism sector are emerging after a sharp downturn in 2020 and 2021, predicting that international visitors will reach four million this year.
She surmised that mainland Chinese visitors to Cambodia would record the highest growth rate this year, driven by Beijing’s January 8 reopening, the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Phnom Penh, and the recent launch of a new strategy to lure more tourists from China.
The uptick in mainland tourists “will play a key role in the recovery of Cambodia’s tourism sector after Covid-19 tapers off”, she claimed, stating that the Cambodian private sector is “ready” to receive Chinese guests.
Thiem Thuong, president of the Siem Reap-based Cambodia Chinese Tour Guide Association, affirmed that, although the number of Chinese visitors since January 8 is fairly limited, it marks a considerable year-on-year increase.
However, with a recent spike in online inquiries among mainlanders into travel to Cambodia, a significant step-up is expected after the Lunar New Year holiday this coming weekend, he said, adding that, in the pre-Covid era, Chinese tourists were a major source of income and jobs for Cambodians.
“We look forward to welcoming them.”
Earlier this month, Minister of Tourism Thong Khon had affirmed to local media that Cambodia is “ready” with “a clear plan” to welcome back mainland Chinese visitors, presenting an estimate for the 2023 total at about “one million” or a more than nine-fold increase over 2022, which he noted was out of the “3.5-to-four million” foreign arrivals expected this year.
And a few days earlier, Prime Minister Hun Sen famously put forth a “two million” aim for mainland Chinese visitors to the Kingdom this year.