‘Mid-Oct’ launch confirmed for Siem Reap airport

The formal launch of the Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport (SAI) is still scheduled for mid-October, following the “success” of last week’s flight validation, according to State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) spokesman Sinn Chanserey Vutha on May 16.

Chanserey Vutha told The Post that the technical team had given the green light to the airport’s CNS (communication, navigation and surveillance) infrastructure and equipment after last week’s tests.

The inspection encompassed both ground and flight elements, including baggage handling and passenger processes, and placed particular emphasis on landing and take-off, he noted.

He also revealed plans to invite Prime Minister Hun Sen to preside over the airport’s launch ceremony in mid-October.

Pacific Asia Travel Association Cambodia Chapter (PATACC) chairman commented to The Post that the new Siem Reap airport comes right on cue as foreign tourists return to the Kingdom, stressing that one of flight validations’ main objective is to ensure the safety of passengers.

“We’re aware that the protracted Russian-Ukrainian war continues to exert pressure on regional and global economies, hurting household incomes and preventing a rise in international visitors. But by the end of this year, we anticipate that the economic climate will improve,” he said.

The SSCA’s Chanserey Vutha remarked that international tourism is not quite back to 2019 (pre-Covid-19) levels, which he put down to the numerous changes linked to the pandemic, coupled with the subsequent economic and financial crises sweeping the region and beyond, including those associated with currency swings as well as rising interest rates and inflation.

He suggested that numbers of international tourists arriving in Cambodia by air are roughly two-fifths of their 2019 levels. “We expect to receive the same amount of passengers in 2024 as in 2019,” he stated.

According to figures from the Ministry of Tourism, between January and February, 314,378 international visitors to the Kingdom arrived by air, equivalent to 37.31 per cent of the 842,679 registered during the same two-month period in 2019.

“However, the current state of affairs is made evermore murky by the Covid issue, each country has a strategy in place to draw in tourists of its own, especially Chinese ones,” Chanserey Vutha said.

Although more Chinese holidaymakers travel to Europe than they do Southeast Asia, plenty do in fact opt to visit the latter, he said, adding that Cambodia is among the most popular ASEAN travel destinations for this market, along with Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Meanwhile, State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) Mao Havannall and Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) administrator Song Zhiyong on April 25 signed a cooperation agreement on aviation safety.

Havannall asked for the CAAC’s cooperation to raise the number of direct commercial flights between Cambodia and China to at least 300 per week, which local pundits have said will foster strong growth in tourist arrivals from the Asian economic powerhouse.

Tourism ministry statistics show that Cambodia welcomed 2.277 million international visitors last year, up 11.59 times from 2021 but down 65.56 per cent from the all-time high of 6.611 million in 2019.

Of the total international visitors, the majority had their purpose of visit marked as “holiday”, at 1.767 million or 77.60 per cent, followed by “business” (431,000; 18.93%) and “others” (79,049; 3.47%).

Similarly, the Kingdom welcomed 837,446 international visitors (654,116 holiday; 161,015 business; 22,315 others) in the first two months of 2023, which was equivalent to 67.28 per cent of the 1.245 million recorded in the same period of 2019 (1.039 million holiday; 171,117 business; 34,893 others), ministry figures indicate.

PhnomPenhPost | May Kunmakara | 16 May 2023