Chinese Continue to Flock as Region Suffers

Cambodia’s tourism industry has benefited from the unrest that has hit much of the region, with Chinese tourists diverting their routes from problematic areas such as Thailand to the country, according to a report released Thursday by the Sydney-based Center for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA).

Chinese visitors, the second largest nationality to visit Cambodia behind Vietnamese, are the fastest growing market, increasing by 20 percent in the first half of the year compared to the last. The number of Chinese nationals hit 240,567 during the first five months of the year and accounted for 12.7 percent of total tourist arrivals.

Driving the growth has been the political protests in Thailand that ended with a military coup, anti-China protests in Vietnam and the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines flight in March, which has impacted travel to both Malaysia and Singapore.

In April, a month after the Malaysia MH370 airliner went missing, Chinese visitor numbers were down by 20 percent in Malaysia, 22 percent in Thailand and 39 percent in Singapore, while in Cambodia, Chinese tourists rose by 18 percent.

“Cambodia’s aviation market continued to grow rapidly in 2014 despite political instability in neighboring Thailand and weaker demand from its largest source market, Vietnam,” the report says.

“But Cambodia has been able to take advantage of the turmoil in Thailand and the sudden unpopularity of Malaysia by successfully marketing itself as an alternative destination to Chinese tourists.”

In May, the Ministry of Tourism met with industry experts to devise a strategy to keep Cambodia attractive to Chinese tourists during regional instability. High on the list was forging better relations with regional tour operators to create affordable packages to Cambodia and making it easier for Chinese visitors to get around.

“The Chinese market is very important for Cambodian tourism thus Cambodia needs to understand what Chinese guests want, especially language,” said Thourn Sinan, president of the Cambodia chapter of the Pacific Asia Travel Association.

“Chinese words should be…[in] food menus, on instruction signs at tourism sites and other signs which can help…Chinese guests as most of them can’t speak English,” he said, adding that more Chinese-speaking tour guides are needed.

Chinese tour operators say demand for trips to Cambodia have grown as it becomes a fashionable destination for its history and culture, thanks to ramped up marketing in China.

Earlier this year, a Chinese production company began filming a television drama series in Angkor Wat titled “Love is Brave,” which has contributed to the appeal of Cambodia, Hong Kong tour operator Wong Ching Hong said.

“Hong Kong people are very interested in the culture of Cambodia and especially the historical monuments. They mostly go there for Angkor Wat, which has become popular because of the movie filmed there,” he said.

The growing Chinese visitor numbers are expected to carry on the momentum throughout the year as more flights are launched between Cambodia and China, the CAPA report says.

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