Tourism pilot plan for 20 nations kicks off

Mainland Chinese arrivals to the Kingdom have seemingly yet to gain any serious impetus in the first week after Beijing’s tourism pilot programme kicked off, but that could change over the next few months as China’s Covid-19 bruises heal and the current influx of travel-related inquiries turn into trip reservations, according to industry insiders.

As stipulated by the pilot programme, which follows a three-year ban, travel agencies are allowed to provide international group tours as well as flight and hotel packages to Chinese citizens that are restricted to Cambodia and 19 other countries, according to China’s tourism ministry.

The other 19 nations chosen for the programme, which commenced on February 6, were Argentina, Cuba, Fiji, Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia, Kenya, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, New Zealand, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.

Thiem Thoeung, president of the Siem Reap-based Cambodia Chinese Tour Guide Association, confirmed to The Post on February 13 that neither Chinese nor foreign tourists in general recorded a significant increase over the past week, but suggested that numbers may jump soon.

Thoeung explained that he and several tour guides are receiving considerable numbers of messages on WeChat – China’s most popular social media app, which boasts a wide range of functions – from potential mainland tourists inquiring about the Covid and vaccination situations, travel conditions, accommodations and other services.

“For now, not very many Chinese nationals are coming, but there could soon be a spike as the Covid situation in China further normalises. And, the Cambodian government has announced that [we’ll be] open, welcoming guests from all countries,” he said.

He shared that Chinese tourists stay an average of three-to-five nights in Cambodia, and that “almost 100 per cent” enter the Kingdom via a direct flight from China, unlike their counterparts from some other countries, who tend to arrive through third countries.

Pacific Asia Travel Association Cambodia chapter chairman Thourn Sinan has also made a similar claim that “over 80 per cent” of mainland visitors do not enter Cambodia through a third country.

He also echoed Thoeung’s observation that changes in inflows of foreign tourists appear to have been minimal in the first week of Beijing’s pilot programme, despite the Cambodian government’s assurances of openness to holidaymakers from all countries and territories.

However, Sinan argued that it may still be too early to identify any meaningful growth trends of Chinese and other foreign tourists.

“We should wait and see until March before reassessing.”

Speaking to reporters on February 7, Minister of Tourism Thong Khon indicated that crossing pre-Covid levels of mainland Chinese visitors to Cambodia would mean consistently bringing in around seven to eight times the approximately “1,000” average daily number logged among better days of January.

Floating a target of 0.8-1.0 million Chinese visitors for this year, he revealed that the January tally came to about 25,000, compared to a pre-2020 monthly average that could approach 200,000.

Meanwhile, tourism ministry statistics show that Cambodia welcomed 2.277 million international visitors in 2022, representing a 65.56 per cent drop from the record-breaking 6.611 million of 2019, albeit an increase by a factor of 11.59 over 2021.

Of the total international visitors, the majority had their purpose of visit marked as “holiday”, at 1.767 million, followed by “business” (431,000) and “others” (79,049) – compared to 5.035 million holiday, 1.371 million business and 204,326 other in 2019.

Although mainland China had accounted for a 35.73 per cent share of all international visitors to the Kingdom in 2019, at 2.362 million (1.299 million holiday; 1.046 million business; 16,254 other), that proportion dropped to just 4.69 per cent last year, or 106,875 (28,837 holiday; 77,595 business; 443 other).

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