After a year that saw a more than 10 percent decline in air arrivals in Cambodia, more pro-active planning is needed to help rekindle growth in the airline industry and diversify the tourism sector, industry experts said yesterday.
Cambodia saw a 1.7 percent increase in visitor arrivals last year but that was the result of more arrivals by land and boat, according to the Tourism Ministry’s end-of-year statistical report released this week.
Air arrivals dropped by 10.3 percent to 1.1 million in 2009 compared to the previous year, whereas land and boat arrivals increased by 22.57 percent to 934,006, according to the ministry figures.
Ho Vandy, co-chair of the working group on tourism in the government-private sector forum, said the government and private sector should devise a cohesive strategy on how to stimulate larger numbers of tourists to come to the country by air in order to increase tourism revenues.
One of the main obstacles, he said, is the price of buying airline tickets to Cambodia from abroad.
“We would like to suggest to the government to see a real solution on why the air fare from other countries to Cambodia is higher than from Cambodia to those other countries,” he said.
Current pricing tariffs provide little incentive for those in the region to fly to Cambodia with neighboring countries often providing more lucrative deals, he added.
Moreover, the cost of domestic flights is still too high. Mr Vandy said the monopolization of the market by the national carrier, Cambodia Angkor Air, has not helped this matter. Since its launch in July, CAA has operated the only flights between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
“The domestic fare is still very high for this moment,” said Mr Vandy, “because we only have one airline operating in this country. This is not very good for tourists.”
Seang Volak, the owner of Palm Tours, a travel agency based in Phnom Penh, said that one-way tickets between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap with CAA were currently selling for about $80. A one-way ticket to Bangkok from Phnom Penh with Bangkok Airways costs about $65.
Officials at the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation said yesterday that Siem Reap Airways, which has announced plans to restart domestic operation here after a ban from the skies back in 2008, was still not ready to commence operations.
Still, direct flights to Cambodia from the Philippines by Philippine Airlines and from Indonesia by Garuda Indonesia, will start operating this year, according to Mr Vandy.
Officials from the Ministry of Tourism could not be reached.
Mr Vandy added that plans for CAA to start flying between Siem Reap International Airport and Sihanouk International Airport were also in the pipelines.
Dinh Quang, an official at CAA, confirmed the company was planning to start operations at the Preah Sihanouk airport yesterday but cautioned that a feasibility study had yet to be conducted.
Mohan Gunti, an advisor to the Cambodian Association of travel Agents who recently returned to Cambodia from the Asean Tourism Forum in Brunei, said the 10-member group of countries was looking to collaborate and market themselves under one umbrella through coordinated travel links throughout the region.
Mr Gunti said such efforts would help Cambodia to diversify its tourism sector, which currently relies on activities based in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
“We are not diluting ourselves. We are moving ahead as our main tourism sector is heritage tourism,” he said.
For travel agents, he said, the important task will be to promote different destinations in Cambodia through marketing campaigns abroad.
“This year is not going to be a silent year,” he said.
Another major topic on the agenda in Brunei, said Mr Gunti, was the integration of more ecotourism projects in the region.
“Cambodia’s tourism industry is closely working with the travel agents to promote special packages in ecotourism,” he said.
Last week, delegates from the Ministry of Tourism confirmed that next year’s 30th Asean Tourism Forum would be held in Phnom Penh from Jan 15 to 21.
Mr Vandy said the forum’s theme would concentrate on how Asean nations can collaborate to market their tourist destinations collectively inside foreign markets.
The event will take place inside a new international conference center being built by the Overseas Cambodia Investment Corp on Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich island.