Cambodia expects more Chinese visitor arrivals to drive tourism growth

PHNOM PENH: Chey Sreykhuoch, a souvenir vendor at the Archeological Park here in northwest , is eager to see more Chinese tourists coming, saying they were the major source of her income in the pre-COVID era.

Selling a variety of souvenirs such as Tro (traditional spike fiddle), drums, walking sticks, Angkor paintings, beaded bracelets and necklaces, and traditional scarves at Ta Prohm temple in the Angkor complex for many years, Sreykhuoch noticed that Chinese holidaymakers like shopping and buying souvenirs.

“They are big spenders for souvenirs,” she told Xinhua on Tuesday. “I want to see them coming back to Cambodia as they did before the pandemic.”

Sreykhuoch said currently, Chinese tourists have gradually returned to Angkor, but the number is still relatively low compared to the pre-pandemic level.

“We want more Chinese tourists to come and visit Cambodia because our country is very safe, unlike some media reports that have published negative news about our Cambodia,” she said.

The 26-year-old vendor recommends that tourists visit the Angkor Wat Temple, Bayon Temple, and Ta Prohm Temple if they spend their holidays in Siem Reap because these ancient temples are grand and unique.

Hong Peng, a Chinese-speaking tour guide at the Angkor Archeological Park, has a strong belief that the Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport (SAI), which started its commercial operation on Monday, will attract more Chinese airlines to fly directly to Siem Reap, bringing more Chinese tourists to Cambodia.

“The COVID-19 pandemic in the last three years had impacted the tourism sector, resulting in a sharp decline in tourist numbers,” he told Xinhua. “With the opening of the new airport, we hope the number of tourists will return to the pre-pandemic level.”

The 40-year-old tour guide said tourists should not miss a visit to the Angkor Wat temple, one of the kingdom's most important heritage sites, if they come to Siem Reap province.

The 401-square-km Angkor Archeological Park, inscribed on the World Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1992, is the most popular tourist destination in Cambodia.

“Angkor Wat is amazing. If you like culture and history, it's definitely worth a visit,” Peng Wangxi, a Chinese businessman from Shanghai who visited Cambodia on a business trip, told Xinhua while paying a visit to the National Museum of Museum in Phnom Penh recently.

“It's rich in cultural heritage with a unique charm,” Peng noted when speaking of Angkor Archeological Park.

Ministry of Tourism Secretary of State Top Sopheak said Cambodia received 364,844 Chinese visitors during the Jan.-Aug. period this year, a year-on-year increase of 611 percent, making China one of the largest sources of international tourists to the Southeast Asian country.

However, he said the number remained quite low compared to 2.36 million Chinese visitor arrivals to the kingdom in the pre-pandemic era in 2019.

“We want more Chinese tourists as they have importantly contributed to our economic and touristic development as well as poverty reduction,” he told Xinhua, expecting Cambodia would receive at least 600,000 Chinese tourists this year.

“I want to send a message to all Chinese citizens that please come and visit Cambodia, a safe tourist destination,” he said.

Sopheak said the “China Ready” strategy, which was first launched in 2016, had been reintroduced to relevant authorities and tourism-related businesses after pandemic restrictions were lifted.

The strategy listed steps to be taken by tourism authorities to facilitate visits by Chinese tourists, such as providing Chinese signs and documents for visa processing, encouraging local use of Chinese yuan and language, and ensuring that food and accommodation facilities are suited to Chinese tastes.

Tourism is one of the four pillars supporting Cambodia's economy. The country attracted up to 6.61 million foreign tourists in 2019, earning 4.92 billion U.S. dollars in gross revenue, according to the Ministry of Tourism. Xinhua

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