At 3:10 pm Tuesday, a Japan Airlines Boeing 767 carrying 74 passengers touched down at Siem Reap International Airport, marking the start of the air-carrier’s Cambodian service.
JAL, which is now offering thrice-monthly chartered service to the tourist hotspot from Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, is the 16th carrier to serve Siem Reap airport.
Airport and government officials expressed optimism Thursday that the new flights would further the expansion of tourist arrivals—already growing by about 20 percent annually.
Though the current flights are scheduled based on customer demand, JAL plans to begin regular, weekly service to Siem Reap town early in 2008, said Khek Norinda, spokesman for Societe Concessionnaire des Aeroports, which manages the Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville airports.
The carriers Finnair and Shenzhen Air are also in talks with Cambodian officials to begin service to Siem Reap, he added.
Between January and October, 1,385,000 air passengers arrived in Siem Reap, 34 percent more than the same period in 2006, according to SCA.
Tourism Minister Thong Khon said Japan remained the number two country of origin for tourists in Cambodia. There were 160,000 Japanese tourist arrivals in 2006, he said, adding that the number was expected to increase by 10 percent this year.
“Angkor Wat is a major destination for Japanese tourists,” he said.
Ho Vandy, chair of the Government-Private Sector Forum’s technical working group on tourism, said Thursday that direct flights from Japan reduce travel costs and flying time, meaning Cambodia will reap more tourist revenues.
“It will be a huge opportunity for Japanese travelers to visit Siem Reap and Angkor,” he said. “And it will be a huge opportunity for job creation.”
However, Moeung Sonn, managing director of Eurasie Travel, said Thursday that tourist arrivals in Siem Reap benefit the province but not surrounding areas such as Preah Vihear or Kompong Thom provinces.
“With the broad-based tourist boom in Siem Reap, the international airport should be moved to another place away from the temples,” he said.