Three months after the government launched its “open skies’’ policy allowing direct flights to the Angkor Wat region, business is booming in Siem Reap.
Officials say they expect it will only get busier.
Thong Khon, secretary of state for the Ministry of Tourism, said the number of tourists visiting Cambodia’s only World Heritage site has doubled, from about 400 people daily to about 800.
He said the hotel business is strong, with the Grand Hotel International doing well and Thai-owned Sofitel Royal Angkor ready to open in October.
The area now offers 1,520 rooms in five hotels and various guest houses, a number expected to double in the next three years, Thong Khon said.
Several other hotel chains are reportedly studying the area with an eye toward building more hotels. “I think it is a good idea to do that in Siem Reap,’’ said Thong Khon. “It is good for us.’’
On Dec 1, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered an immediate “open skies” policy, allowing direct international flights to Siem Reap and ending the de facto monopoly by Royal Air Cambodge and Bangkok Airways.
On Jan 7, the first Vietnam Airlines flight landed in Siem Reap. Since then, a daily flight from Vietnam has joined five daily flights from Thailand. Tourism officials hope the new line will carry more than 10,000 visitors in its first year and up to 30,000 a year eventually.
Thong Khon said Shanghai and Singapore Airlines are also considering direct flights. He said daily visitors to Angkor Wat could reach 1,000, once the roads to Siem Reap from Poipet and Phnom Penh are upgraded. Those projects are expected to take at least two years.
The open skies policy drew fire when it was first proposed, because it means visitors no longer must travel through Phnom Penh to get to Angkor Wat. A number of Phnom Penh-based tourist enterprises complained about the loss of business.
Industry analysts, however, say some tourists just won’t be interested in visiting other sites in Cambodia and that tourism officials should work with Thailand, China, Laos, Burma and Vietnam to develop multi-country tour packages.