Cambodia tourism has been confronted with the economic crisis to the slump of a dramatic decline from Northeast Asia, especially Japan and South Korea. Political skirmish with Thailand also contributed to a sharp drop from neighboring tourists.
After six years of uninterrupted growth –and mostly in double-digit figures-, Cambodia tourism has seen a decline in total arrivals for the first half of 2009. Albeit modest at -1.1 percent, it sent a worrying signal as tourism is one of the biggest revenues earning for the government and a major source of employment with over 300,000 Khmers working in the hotel and tourism business.
According to a survey, South Korean travelers, among Cambodia’s top incoming markets, drop by a third during the first semester 2009. Markets such as Australia, China, Thailand or Japan declined also in double-digit numbers. Growth was however recorded in Vietnam –now Cambodia’s largest incoming market-, France, the UK and the USA.
The city of Siem Reap, where Angkor Wat fabled temples are located, has been more affected by the drop. According to data from the airports authority, the number of passengers at Siem Reap declined from January to May by 25.5 percent, from 778,000 to 580,000.
During the same period, Phnom Penh saw passengers’ traffic declining by a more modest 12.9 percent from 767,000 to 667,000 passengers. Numbers have since substantially improved at Phnom Penh International Airport. Passengers’ traffic was only down by 10.2 percent at the end of August.
The disaffection for Angkor Wat is also reflected into the revenues from Apsara Authorities, which manages the temples. For the first half of the year, revenues from ticket sales were down by almost 20 percent. It would be the second consecutive year of decline for the authority as revenues from ticket sales already dropped from US$ 32 to 30 million between 2007 and 2008. Bun Narith, director general of the Apsara Authority, blamed the economic crisis, political uncertainties in neighboring Thailand and bad weather for the overall drop.
Meanwhile, tourism in Cambodia seems to have reached the bottom line. In July, the kingdom recorded an increase of 10 percent in total arrivals. Numerous price reductions and discounts in hotels and tourist attractions, the opening of new border crossings, more flights to Cambodia thanks to the new national carrier Cambodia Angkor Air (CAA) should contribute to put back tourism on the right track. The government has already promised to start again a TV campaign on channels in China, Japan and Korea and predict that tourism will grow again from September. With a bit of luck, it could even erase completely its decline and show a modest growth in total arrivals by year-end.