Sihanoukville Seeks Chinese Appeal as Airport Expands

Construction of a new terminal at Sihanoukville’s international airport amid increasing traffic—quickly approaching 500,000 passengers a year—could help the seaside city ride a wave of increasing Asian visitors, particularly from China, tourism officials said.

“Every night, there are already a lot of Chinese airplanes landing over there,” Tourism Minister Thong Khon said on Friday at the beginning of a development conference. “Tomorrow, the airport will start building a new terminal.”

There are already near-daily flights to Sihanoukville from Tianjin, a city south of Beijing, said Eric Delobel, CEO of Cambodia Airports. The airport’s current runways can handle medium-range aircraft —putting it in reach of multiple destinations within a five-hour flight radius, including many in China.

But passenger capacity at the airport is currently just over 150,000 people a year—not enough for the growth Cambodia Airports and tourism officials are anticipating, he said.

“The share of international passengers who take planes is increasing,” said Mr. Delobel, adding that market research showed the greatest increase was in passengers from China, followed by passengers from Cambodia, the U.K. and Australia.

Luu Meng, chairman of the European Chamber of Commerce’s tourism committee, said that more flights would mean more visits from connecting destinations. “Any direct flight will dramatically increase tourism potential,” he said.

But Mr. Meng said the potential for easy connectivity was not the only reason that tourism officials sought more Chinese arrivals.

In Sihanoukville, “the No. 1 spenders are tourists from China,” he said. “There are a lot of Chinese tourists who are willing to spend their money. They want to have a luxury experience, and a good time.”

Officials are also calling for new entertainment facilities and international-standard luxury hotels. However, it is important for Sihanoukville to fine-tune its offerings to continue catering to a diverse market, Mr. Meng said.

“Any nation of tourists here has three types of people,” he said. “There are people who come with their tour package. Then there are the people who just want good food and a good place to go. And then there are those who want a luxury experience.”

Yu Ty, 34, a smoke shop owner from China’s Jilin province who was staying two blocks from the beach at Golden Sand Hotel and Casino in Sihanoukville, said through a translator that he fell firmly into the second category.

Mr. Yu, who was making his third visit to town, said he liked Sihanoukville because he has a lot of friends there—and because he enjoyed an occasional round of gambling.

“Mostly I like to visit the islands, and the sea…and to get a little drunk,” he said with a laugh, before heading out of the lobby to join his friends for a beer.

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