Malaysia Airlines begins flights today on a new route between Kuala Lumpur and Siem Reap, reflecting international optimism in Cambodia’s potential as a tourist attraction, though Cambodian-owned airlines are lamenting economic woes and suspending flights.
Direct flights between the Malaysian capital and the home of Angkor Wat will run three times a week, complementing existing flights between Kuala Lumpur and Phnom Penh, Abdul Manaf, the airline’s area manager, said Wednesday.
“I think now Cambodia is ready to become a major tourist destination, especially Angkor Wat,” he said, adding that there were 10 times as many passengers flying on Malaysia Airlines to Cambodia in 2003 as in previous years.
Cambodian-owned Royal Phnom Penh Airways, however, suspended its flights last month because of slow business and will not start up again until November, when the tourism high season starts, the airline’s president, Prince Norodom Chakrapong, said Wednesday. The airline operated flights between Phnom Penh and Bangkok, Siem Reap, Ratanakkiri, Battambang, and Stung Treng province.
“The economy is so slow, and there is no investment in tourism plus high taxation,” Prince Chakrapong said.
Last year, Mekong Airlines, a Cambodian-Australian joint venture shut down, saying business was badly affected by the Iraq war and the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in Asia.
Civil aviation figures showed air travel to Siem Reap International Airport was down 13 percent in 2003. Travel to Battambang Airport was halved, and Ratanakkiri saw 22 percent fewer passengers.
At the end of 2003, there were 14 international carriers and five national airlines registered to operate in Cambodia, according to a compilation of Cambodia Civil Aviation Statistics.
The passengers traveling on international flights to Cambodia also decreased compared with previous years, dropping 16 percent in 2003. Despite the drop, foreign carriers said promotions could help increase travel, and that business is already picking up.
Malaysia Airlines hopes to boost sales with a four-day package tour for foreigners and locals on routes between Kuala Lumpur, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, including flight, hotel, meals and transportation.
Meng Chong Qiu, sales manager for China Southern Air, was optimistic about the future of flights to Cambodia saying business has jumped after his airline began offering low season discounts on flights from China to Phnom Penh. “I think this is the way to promote the tourism industry,” he said.