Widening of Airport Runway Expected to Increase Tourism

The widening of Phnom Penh International Airport’s runway is scheduled to begin next month, enabling the arrival of direct flights from Japan, Ministry of Tourism Secretary of State Thong Khon said.

“Widening the runway will bring a lot more Japanese tourists to the country,” he said Thursday outside a seminar on Japanese tourism at the Hotel Cambodiana.

Japanese regulations do not allow airplanes manned by Jap­anese pilots to land on runways less than 45 meters wide. The runway is 40 meters wide.

The formerly state-run Kam­puchea Airlines—now affiliated with Orient Thai Airlines—began direct charter flights from Japan to Siem Reap town earlier this month.

Though the runway in Siem Reap is not 45 meters wide, the flight is allowed because the pilots are Thai, Thong Khon said.

Direct flights from Japan to Phnom Penh will start after the runway construction is completed, said Thong Khon. He said he expects that to happen midway through 2004.

He, along with officials contacted Thursday at the State Secre­tariat of Civil Aviation, were not sure how much the project would cost. Officials at the Japanese Em­bassy and Societe Concessionaire de l’Aeroport, the French company that operates the airport, did not return phone calls Thursday.

Ministry of Tourism statistics show that Japanese tourists comprised the majority of visitors to the country in the first nine months of this year, but the total number of tourists from Japan is less than it was during the same period last year. Nearly 57,000 Jap­anese visited the country through September; in 2002 the number was 70,000.

The total number of visitors likely will fall well short of the government’s goal of 1 million for 2003, primarily because of the re­gional outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome earlier this year and travel fears over the Iraq War. About 470,000 tourists visited the country through Sep­tember, about 14 percent less than the same period last year.

The drop in tourism hit Phnom Penh the hardest. While arrivals to Siem Reap dropped by nearly

8 percent, in Phnom Penh the number declined by more than 18 percent.

Before this year, tourist arrivals had increased about 25 percent every year since 1998. Last year, a record 790,000 tourists visited the country. The tourism industry now employs about 100,000 people and makes up 15 percent of economic output.


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