Airlines Experience Healthy Rebound in First Six Months

Airline companies operating in Cambodia experienced a rebound in business in the first half of the year, with passenger levels at both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports returning to pre-financial crisis levels, the country’s airport operator said yesterday.

According to Societe Concessionnaire des Aeroports passenger traffic at Phnom Penh International Airport increased by 8 percent to 833,627 between January and June, while Siem Reap International Airport experienced a 27 percent increase to 785,503 passengers.

“In Phnom Penh we are today at the traffic level of year 2008 while in Siem Reap, we reach the level of 2007,” said Khek Norinda, marketing manager for Societe Concessionnaire des Airports, in an email.

“Overall there has been an increase for all nationalities but a significantly strong one for regional visitors, in particular those from China, Taiwan and Korea,” he added.

“We are recovering from the recession…that’s for sure,” said James Chen, general manager for China Airlines in Cambodia. “We are focusing on getting better for the next half of the year.”

Mr Chen said that China Airlines has remained stable transporting about 20,000 passengers during the first six months of the year.

Midway through last year as air arrivals plummeted, airline companies introduced discounted fares and other promotions to help get the sector, as well as their own profits, off the ground. But for most, those days are now over.

Pham The Hung, general manager at Vietnam Airlines, which schedules 12 return flight a day between Cambodia and Vietnam, said passenger levels between the two countries were up by nine percent to 30,000 passengers between January and June.

Despite a rise in passenger levels, Mr Hung said his outlook for the future was mediocre, especially seeing as the economic recovery in Europe and the US is under threat from concerns over a prolonged sovereign debt crisis.

“I don’t think there will be anything special because the market is quiet stable in Cambodia,” he said, adding that ticket prices had held stable over the past year.

Airlines tend to see a pick up in revenues between October and April when Cambodia experiences its high season in tourism.

Mr Hung said that it would be at least two years before Cambodia Angkor Air – Cambodia’s national carrier in which Vietnam Airlines has a 49 percent stake – would begin flights to Preah Sihanouk province.

Travel agents and private sector advocates have been calling on the government to bring flights to the province in order to give a boost to the tourism industry.

Mr Hung said that in order to attract airline passengers to the coastal airport the government must implement policies that draw tourists.

“The market for people traveling there is too low,” he said.

Ho Vandy, co-chair of the government-private sector Tourism Working Group, said the main reason for a rebound in passengers to the country was down to airlines integrating new routes and destinations to their schedules.

In March, China Eastern started a new route between Shanghai and Siem Reap city operating two times a week. China Southern Airlines also added three flights a week between Phnom Penh and Guangzhou, and budget carrier Air Asia added seven flights per week between Phnom Penh and Kuala Lumpur.

“This is a good time for the airline industry to play catch up,” Mr Vandy said.

Noel Teo, country manager for Silk Air, which is wholly owned by Singapore Airlines and operates two return flights daily between Phnom Penh and Singapore, said that although he did not have access to figures on passenger levels, optimism was returning to the industry after a tough 2009.

“There is a general consensus that the world economy is picking up. On the regional level, traveling is definitely picking up,” he said.


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