Cambodia has the fastest-growing aviation sector in Southeast Asia, with passenger numbers surging 13 percent in 2014 as a result of an increase in visitors from China, according to a report released Thursday by the Australia-based Center for Asia Pacific Aviation.
For the fifth consecutive year, Cambodia witnessed double-digit passenger growth, “an impressive but little known achievement,” says the report, which is based on data from the country’s three international airports in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville.
“Cambodia Airports handled 5.73 million passengers in 2014, representing a 13% increase over the 5.08 million passengers handled in 2013,” it says.
The country’s neighbors fared worse, according to the report, with Vietnam experiencing growth of 11 percent followed by Indonesia and Malaysia at 5 percent, Thailand at 3 percent and Singapore at 1 percent.
The report says the total number of travelers who passed through Cambodia’s three airports was 50 percent higher last year than in 2011.
At Siem Reap International Airport, the country’s busiest, passenger traffic was 140 percent higher in 2014 than in 2009, the report says, topping 3 million passengers last year and up from 2.7 million the previous year.
Phnom Penh International Airport saw an 11 percent increase in passenger numbers last year, from 2.4 million in 2013 to 2.66 million last year.
Sihanoukville International Airport received 43,000 passengers in 2014, compared to about 20,000 in 2013.
The report credits Cambodia’s regional dominance last year in part to an influx of Chinese tourists—many of whom changed their travel plans at the last minute.
“Tourist arrivals at Cambodia’s two [main] international airports were up by about 13%, driven by an over 20% increase in arrivals from China,” the report says.
“Cambodia was able to attract a significant number of Chinese tourists in 2014 who were initially planning to travel to Thailand, Malaysia or Singapore,” it says.
“Demand for holidays to Thailand was impacted through the first nine months of 2014 by the civil unrest in Bangkok while Malaysia demand was impacted following the March 2014 Malaysia Airlines MH370 incident.”
Tith Chantha, director-general of the Ministry of Tourism, said the increase in Chinese visitors could also be the result of new trade between the two countries.
“Last year, Cambodia joined many tourism and trade exhibitions in China and signed deals with Chinese counterparts to attract Chinese investors to inject their money in the tourism sector and airlines,” he said.
The main beneficiaries of the increase in Chinese travelers, the report says, are Cambodia’s seven Chinese-owned airlines.
It also notes that four Cambodian airlines—Bassaka Air, Cambodia Bayon Airlines, Cambodia Angkor Air and Sky Angkor Airlines—plan to launch flights to China.
While Thursday’s report trumpeted Cambodia’s swelling aviation sector, last year’s growth rate was lower than in 2012 and 2013, which both saw 18 percent increases in passenger numbers.
And Norinda Khek, spokesman for Cambodia Airports, which operates the country’s three international airports, said the sector’s growth was likely to slow this year.
“In 2015, our total growth assumption for passenger traffic at the three international airports is 9 percent,” he said.