More than 2 million visitors have passed through Siem Reap International Airport since the start of the year, marking the greatest number of annual air passengers to transit any Cambodian airport, Cambodia Airports announced yesterday.
“At Siem Reap International Airport, we broke the 2 million passengers mark [for the] year…. This is the first time in Cambodia,” said Khek Norinda, communications manager at Cambodia Airports, which operates the Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville international airports.
Total handling capacity for both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports is 2.5 million passengers per year, according to Cambodia Airports, which has plans to expand the two facilities.
But while the number of international visitors to Cambodia is increasing steadily each year, experts say this growth is largely driven by Asian tourists, who have a lesser financial impact on the local economy than their European and American counterparts.
According to the Ministry of Tourism, nearly 2.9 million people arrived in Cambodia by land, air and sea during the first 10 months of the year, up from 2.3 million during the same period last year, a 24 percent increase.
Most visitors were Vietnamese, followed by South Koreans and Chinese.
Laos and Thailand, however, saw the most dramatic increases compared to last year, and the number of Lao tourists in Cambodia almost doubled from 106,000 in 2011 to 201,000 so far this year. Thai tourists increased from 91,000 to 160,000 during the same period.
In contrast, tourists from the U.S. and France—both of which have strong historical ties with Cambodia —accounted for only 8 percent of total visitors so far this year.
Emmett McHenry, general manager of the Sokha Angkor Resort in Siem Reap, said the province has seen a drop in tourists from countries such as Spain, Italy, Portugal and the U.K., attributing the trend to the recent economic recession in Europe. Mr. McHenry said that visitors to Siem Reap from neighboring countries such as Vietnam, Thailand and Laos are increasing most rapidly.
Rainer Deyhle, president of the Foreign Business Owners Association of Cambodia, said that tourists from Vietnam, South Korea and China often pay for group tour packages—which include flights, accommodation, food and in-country travel—while still in their home countries, meaning they spend almost no money in Cambodia.
“They’re not spending any [money] here; they paid already at home…. They stay in a group,” Mr. Deyhle said, noting a recent decline in the number of Western tourists, who contribute to local businesses by staying in upscale hotels and dining in high-end restaurants.
“People from Europe, they spend very well,” said Luu Meng, president of the Cambodia Hotel Association, adding that better transportation options and higher standards of cleanliness in hotels and restaurants would increase the number of wealthy tourists visiting Cambodia.