Fleet Expands as Airlines Vie for Chinese Visitors

Cambodia’s commercial aircraft fleet is expected to expand this year as airlines compete to gain a share of the lucrative Chinese tourism mar­ket, according to a report re­leased on Tuesday by the Center for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA).

With the launch of new airlines and the expansion of existing ones, the country’s fleet has doubled in size over the past two years to 16 planes, the report says. In 2014, flag-carrier Cambodia Ang­kor Air and Siem Reap-based Sky Angkor Airlines, which operate six planes each, were joined by Cambodia Ba­yon Airlines and Bassaka Air, which operate two aircraft apiece, it says.

While Bayon’s acquisition of a second plane was the high point of 2015, the report says, “fleet ex­pan­sion in Cambodia should re­sume in 2016.”

“China has more opportunities for Cambodian airlines as it is primarily point-to-point and can be served with charters or scheduled flights relying primarily on group bookings,” it says, explaining that both Bayon and Cambodia Angkor Air are expected to acquire new planes to tap into growing numbers of tourists and business travelers from China.

This focus on China is sharpened further by a hesitation to expand into Thailand, whose airspace is already crowded, according to the report.

“Cambodia’s largest international market, Thailand, is dominated by foreign airlines. Cambodian airlines have traditionally struggled to compete [in] Bangkok,” it says.

Bassaka Air, which is owned by hotel and gaming firm NagaCorp, currently operates routes between Phnom Penh and Macau, China, and Siem Reap, but is expected to cease the domestic route in order to expand into its targeted Chinese market, it adds.

“[The] main objective is clearly to bring Chinese gamblers to Nagaworld…. Bassaka also has an advantage in being able to offer packages at the Nagaworld resort.”

The report says Bassaka is particularly primed to benefit from Cambodia-China linkages as passenger traffic at Phnom Penh In­ter­national Airport, its hub, again grows by double digits this year, driven in part by robust demand from Chinese gamblers.

However, Sky Angkor, which op­­erates out of Siem Reap Inter­na­tional Airport, is likely to delay ex­pansion amid a gradual slowdown in Chinese tourist arrivals there.

Neither Bassaka nor Sky Angkor could be reached on Tuesday.

Luu Meng, co-chair of the government-­private sector working group on tourism and president of the Cambodian Hotel Associa­tion, said increasing the number of routes between Cambodia and Chi­na was key to competing with neigh­boring countries for Chi­nese tourists.

“There were around 13 million Chinese travelers in Asean last year, but in Cambodia we had only 0.5 million, so there is plenty of opportunity for growth,” Mr. Meng said.

“The four airlines have different advantages; they’ll compete for new Chinese destinations, and in­creasingly look into forming partnerships with travel agencies.”

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