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Hospitality & Tourism in Cambodia

Cambodia Tourism: Hospitality & Tourism in Cambodia

If you are looking at taking a holiday in Cambodia and visiting for business or pleasure, or maybe you are looking to join the burgeoning tourism industry, then this guide covers all your bases for the hospitality and tourism industry in Cambodia.

We have pulled together a summary of tourism industry tips in Cambodia and the various facilities available to an individual and corporate users, plus information relating to travelling into and around the country.

If you can’t find your answer here, just ask us at B2B and we’ll point you in the right direction.

Updated May 2020

  • Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that Cambodia attracted 4.5 million tourists over the course of 2014 at the opening of the World Conference on Tourism and Culture. He added at the time “The projection for 2020 is 7.5 million inbound tourists that generate $5 billion in terms of revenues and 80,000 jobs. In addition, Cambodia’s tourism campaign of “Cambodia: Kingdom of Wonder” and the competition movement of “Clean City, Clean Resort, Good Service” has greatly helped promote Cambodia’s prestige in the region and in the world.
  • Tourism statistics show that Cambodia has seen an increase in tourism every year from 2013-2019. Data shows the total number of tourists to the Kingdom as 2016 (5,011,712), 2017 (5,602,157), 2018 (6,201,077), 2019* (6.7 million* estimated).
  • In 2019, Cambodia earned around $4.91 billion from international tourism.
  • Siem Reap and Angkor Wat have repeatedly won international travel and destination awards.
  • The coast of Cambodia has seen rapid growth and development along Sihanoukville, Kep, Kampot and on the islands.
  • All key regional hubs have tourism development and strategic plans in place or in the process of being drawn up, which include the identification of tourist attractions, improving infrastructure and access.
  • Current airports, roads and seaports are seeing enhancements and new facilities are being built to attract more domestic, regional and international tourists.
  • Tourism in Cambodia is seasonal with the “high season” running from November to March when it’s dry and there is relatively cooler weather.
  • July and August are also popular with Western tourists because of the school summer holidays while June and September are traditionally the quietest months.
  • If you are setting up a tourist-reliant business make sure you factor in the low season and the lack of income impact into your business plan.
  • The low season is being marketed by some vendors as “green season” and doesn’t appear to scare away regional Asian travelers as much as some might first suspect.
  • The number of public holidays in the Kingdom of Cambodia is high, although these were reduced in 2020, they still have an impact on business operations and travel and some regions are inundated with local visitors for specific holidays like Khmer New Year (April), and Water Festival (October).
  • Cambodia benefits from being part of the Indochina/Southeast Asia circuit—an enticing set of affordable destinations for many contemporary explorers.
  • Yet, due to this, short stays have been the norm in Cambodian tourism, as visitors tend to cram as many neighbouring countries as possible into a few weeks of yearly vacation time.
  • Furthermore, reliance on regional tourism infrastructure has a direct impact on Cambodian tourism as when the surrounding region is unsettled, such as during the Thai coup or Vietnamese anti-Chinese riots in 2014, or from pandemics, Cambodian tourism is adversely affected, regardless of whether or not regional events have any actual ramifications on the country.
  • There has been an increase in the number of direct long-haul flights coming into Cambodia from worldwide destinations since 2018 as well as connecting flights to regional hubs.
  • Cambodia has decreased its reliance on transfers from nearby regional hubs, such as Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong but these are still vital to tourism.
  • As more direct long-haul flights increase, this problem will lessen and the airports are seeing upgrades to allow for larger capacities and longer runways to accept long haul flights from larger aircraft.
  • Tourism continues to increase and is spreading further afield than the traditional tourist hotspots of Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and the coast.
  • The private sector — through mechanisms like the Cambodia Tourism Federation — is finding platforms to better advertise some of the diversity of Cambodia as a destination.
  • The private sector and the Ministry of Tourism jointly try and organise a calendar of yearly events (such as festivals, fairs and exhibitions) that will help to further promote Cambodia with both tourists and business people alike.
  • Visitors to Kampot, Kep and Battambang are also seeing a rise.
  • Cruise trip services, and water-based expeditions and golf tourism are also increasing as is eco-tourism.
  • Cambodia’s hospitality and tourism industry has already moved from focusing on only backpackers and expanded their target market on other visitors. There has been a significant increase in middle income and upper-income visitors, especially families, to visit Cambodia.
  • Visitors from America, the UK, Europe and Australia continue to steadily flow into Cambodia. However, the largest group of visitors have been from China and there has been a boom in Asian tourists.
  • The strongest Asian tourist arrivals to Cambodia are the Chinese, the Vietnamese, Laotians, South Koreans, Malaysians and the Japanese.
  • The biggest group of non-Asian tourists are from the USA, UK, and France.
  • The recent boom in Asian mass tourism is sometimes misleading in terms of the Cambodian tourism industry’s development though – as it doesn’t encourage trickle-down wealth to the local market, as generally expected from responsible tourism growth.
  • Inter-Asian tourism agencies often create their own tourism infrastructure inside Cambodia – limiting the flow of wealth to the local market.
  • Chinese tour groups, for instance, generally take Chinese owned and operated chartered tours, stay at Chinese owned or endorsed hotels, eat at Chinese restaurants, and gamble at Chinese endorsed casinos.
  • This means the local economy doesn’t benefit to the extent it does with a more independent traveller.
  • With the integration of ASEAN, it has been predicted Cambodia will increasingly become used as a business destination.
  • The adoption of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) blueprint and the ASEAN Training Standards are improving the tourism industry.
  • Cheaper and better conference facilities in the main Cambodian cities, and an increasing number of direct flights from international business hubs, including Singapore and Hong Kong, add to this trend.
  • Improvements in making visas available online and improving digital frameworks allow tourists to more easily visit Cambodia.
  • The Cambodia Tourism Marketing Strategy 2015-2020 report projected there would be 7.5 million foreign visitors annually by 2020 with forecasts suggesting up to 15 million arrivals in 2030, bringing in an estimated $10 billion and creating up to 2 million jobs.
  • The Cambodian government is trying to tackle zero-dollar tourism.
  • The ten ASEAN countries (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) all have different visa policies but the implementation of the visa for ASEAN will make travel easier.
  • People will be able to move freely around the region, meaning there is open immigration for workers.
  • This is likely to increase competition for labour more so than already exists, and drive up costs of hiring and retaining tourism professionals within Cambodia.
  • Tourism has rapidly changed in Cambodia with the influx of visitors contributing greatly to the changing face of the country.
  • The number of tourism industry competitors is increasing at a rapid rate, but this may be a good thing.
  • It means businesses must set their own benchmarks; improve their design, create events, and increase visibility, continually.
  • Investing in branding and finding a unique selling point that sets you apart from the rest are two elements that will help you to succeed in hospitality in Cambodia. It is important to remain adaptable, and open to changing trends.
  • Phnom Penh’s boutique hotel boom is a great example of popular and recent diversification in the midrange hospitality market.
  • Boutique hotels priced between $50 and $120 a night are widely available in Phnom Penh (and Siem Reap), and typically offer a more personal service than the major brands.
  • Demand has changed, and continues to change, with tourists expecting a wider range of experiences and standards of service.
  • High-end resorts and luxury hotels are more frequent across the country including in the jungles, on the islands and in the major cities which have also seen more international hotel brands enter the Cambodian market.
  • As the tourism industry in Cambodia continues to expand, the supply of experienced, talented staff struggles to keep pace with growing demand, however the government and corporate initiative to train professional tourism staff are trying to address this.
  • This remains true despite the existence of several high-end and mid-range training schools training tourism professionals in Cambodia.
  • Additionally, the hospitality industry faces competition from growing sectors such as banking, sales and , digital and telecommunications where service-oriented staff are in high demand, and where these companies are able to afford higher salaries as incentives to staff.
  • Staff poaching in the tourism and hospitality industry is rife in Cambodia, as it is elsewhere in the region. This will only increase with the conglomeration of ASEAN labour markets.
  • For business owners, dealing with this problem is not just about remuneration, it’s also about selection, training and development; offering staff incentives and a clear career path and promotions.
  • In the hospitality industry you need to be very proactive in retaining and developing talent.
  • The Cambodian government announced in 2019 its intention to grow the workforce in the tourism industry to 1 million people, with the estimates at the time being 800,000 people employed in the sector.
  • Since 2016, more Cambodian hospitality and tourism companies have been seeking ASEAN’s Mutual Recognition Arrangement on Tourism Professionals, which sets out guidelines for how to train and evaluate staff.
  • The rapid ascent of Cambodia’s inbound tourism market coincided with a staggering increase in the rate of internet use and travel apps available.
  • The frequent use and reliance on Facebook and other social networking platforms and travel sites such as TripAdvisor, Airbnb, travel booking sites etc means Cambodia receives free tourism promotional material which is spread across these online channels.
  • This can be a double-edged sword, with the potential for unmoderated criticism to be widely spread also.
  • Businesses operating in the tourism and hospitality industry need to monitor social media, and make use of digital trends in their industries. 
  • As long as services are well-rated, even the smallest bed and breakfast can compete in free advertising online.
  • Click-through booking websites also put power into the consumer’s hands.
  • The largest of these sites, agoda.com and booking.com, now link to thousands of hotels in Cambodia.
  • Do due diligence into the costs as these online systems and tools can charge between 10 and 20% commission – add to that a 2.5% credit card charge and 10% VAT and it soon adds up.
  • Software solutions catering to the hospitality industry can also be a big help to those setting up in Cambodia.
  • Information systems allow data from different elements of the company, such as front-end, back-office and restaurant to be compiled and analysed.
  • Other features include inventory control, reservations, guest comments, and room vacancy.
  • International hotel management software and reservation systems are relatively borderless and can be implemented in Cambodia.

Tourism Top Tips: Cambodia

Here we call on experts in Cambodia to share what they have learnt about being a success in Cambodia’s fiercely competitive hospitality and tourism sector.

  • Gone are the days when all it took was hiring a small shop house, putting a few rattan chairs outside and a noticeboard with a name outside to make a few bucks.
  • Cambodia has evolved and the capital (Phnom Penh) and other urban areas now offer a wealth of choices for the diverse wealth of tourists that today visit the country.
  • However, many foreign investors still fail to acknowledge the need to carry out strategic planning to survive in this over-saturated market.
  • Many tourism and hospitality services go bankrupt in Cambodia before they open because they underestimate what you have to do in Cambodia to make things work.
  • Demand has changed and tourists expect more from their experiences visiting Cambodia. 
  • Competition is fierce in Cambodia and now you have to be innovative and do something different to make yourself stand out from the crowd.
  • Investing in branding and finding a unique selling point that sets you apart from the rest are two elements that will help in hospitality.
  • There’s no easy money, including in Cambodia. If you have a good idea, are prepared to work like crazy and have enough cash to invest in the business – only then can you succeed.
  • While succeeding in Phnom Penh, is easier than say Europe, people still misjudge it and think it’s even easier here than it is.
  • A large pool of skilled hospitality workers are lacking despite several high-end training schools so recruiting and retaining good staff is vital.
  • Easy ways to achieve these are to pay a fair salary, take time hiring the correct person and then training them.
  • Continued training is essential and incentives also offer benefits to employees, such as health insurance and social activities.
  • Cambodia’s reliance on the region has a direct impact on tourism.
  • Being part of a larger trip to Indochina means when the surrounding region is unsettled, such as a pandemic or a coup, it also affects Cambodia.
  • This impact is regardless of whether or not it has any ramifications on Cambodia itself, although as we said- more direct flights to Cambodia and the types of tourists are changing.
  • Don’t underestimate the actual cost involved to set up a venture in Cambodia and the time that it will take to start making a respectable profit.

Accommodation and facilities available in Cambodia

No matter how you like to travel, Cambodia will always have a place to cater for your needs; from $5 backpackers beds to $2000 a night 5-star luxury resorts.

Increasingly too, the Kingdom of Cambodia is offering facilities for corporate events and business travellers.

  • Phnom Penh and Siem Reap have the largest variety of hotels and guesthouses and are each home to a range of internationally branded hotels such as Raffles, Le Méridien, Sofitel and Rosewood.
  • Luxury Hotels in Cambodia has been selected in the much anticipated Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers Choice Awards.
  • New international hotel brands, including well known and premium luxury brands, continue to expand into Cambodia eg: Shangri-La, Rosewood, Hilton etc.
  • Many hotels, particularly in Phnom Penh, target the business market and provide additional services such as business lounges, meeting facilities and secretarial assistance.
  • Internet access is improving continuously and the majority of hotels, as well as restaurants and cafés, offer free Wi-Fi services.
  • The breadth and quality of services vary considerably as some areas of Cambodia, such as Siem Reap and coastal areas, have developed more quickly than others.
  • In many cases, good rates can be secured via online booking sites such, although booking directly through a hotel can still be the cheapest option and asking for discounts is not uncommon.
  • Boutique hotels priced between US$30 and US$120 a night are widely available in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, and on the coast and typically offer a more personal service than the major brands.
  • Accommodation in Cambodia is cheap in comparison to many of its neighbours, especially Hong Kong and Singapore and even Thailand.
  • By comparison, a decent guesthouse in Cambodia can cost between $15 and $20 a night.
  • Sihanoukville has some upscale hotels, but the city has changed rapidly. Elsewhere in the country, hotel facilities have a great range and higher-end resorts in areas such as Kompong Thom, Koh Kong, Kep and even on top of Bokor Mountain in Kampot Province are available.
  • The average quality of service across the hospitality industry in Cambodia is evolving and at high-end resorts and hotels, it can be world-class.
  • A massive number of restaurants and cafes open up every year in Phnom Penh alone. It’s fiercely competitive in an industry that works on very little profit with ever-increasing running costs.
  • The rapid growth of the Cambodian tourism market in recent years has not failed to catch the attention of international companies seeking a destination for MICE (Meetings, Incentive trips, Conferences and Events).
  • Many tour operators in Cambodia now arrange MICE trips and events, usually receiving clients through travel companies or organisers based in clients’ home countries.
  • Seminars, conventions, exhibitions, incentive trips and reward vacations, all help boost Cambodia as a place where business people come for more than just the scenery.
  • Phnom Penh’s Diamond Island Convention Center and Angkor CoEX in Siem Reap each has the capacity for Conventions and Exhibitions.
  • International chains such as Raffles and Sofitel are present in both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and offer exclusive MICE inclusive packages.
  • The third MICE-ready locale in Cambodia is Sihanoukville, with large international-standard hotels available and under construction as the city landscape is changing fast.
  • Tour companies and guides, of which there are many, range considerably in price, quality, languages and services offered.
  • Many upscale overseas tour operators now offer itineraries in Cambodia, teaming up with local ground operators to provide high-quality tours for discerning customers.
  • Higher-end tours provide unique room and board as well as adventures and exotic methods of transportation such as taking an ATV through the jungle.
  • Off-road motorcycle and mountain bike trips, ranging from a couple of days or longer, are offered by several operators.
  • Eco-tourism and adventure tourism is becoming an increasingly popular speciality.
  • The temples of Angkor are still the biggest attraction and visitors will often add a few days in Phnom Penh or at the beach.
  • Ongoing improvements to road networks have significantly reduced travel times and the once remote areas such as Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri are now finding their way onto several tour operators’ maps.
  • The most common means of transport for short distances and (especially for Cambodian people) is the moto or motodop, known in English as a moped.
  • Other forms of inner-city transport include Cambodian remorque tuk-tuks, which are carriages pulled by a moto, and traditional cyclos which are three-wheeled bicycles with a passenger seat at the front. Since around 2018 smaller, often electric, tuk-tuks from elsewhere in Asia have become more common.
  • Cyclos are rarely seen outside Phnom Penh and, with their numbers in decline, are now used mainly by tourists and the elderly.
  • Prices vary for motos and tuk-tuks depending on the number of passengers, distance travelled, destination and time of day, with short moto trips costing from around 3000 Riel (US$0.75).
  • Taxis are becoming more common in urban centres and can be cheaper than taking a tuk-tuk or moto. 
  • Metered taxi firms do operate in Phnom Penh and other major cities.
  • Taxis (corporate and private) are also frequently used for cross-country travel and can be quite affordable especially if you are travelling in a group.
  • Buses and minibuses are a common means of transport between cities. Larger coaches travel between the major urban centres while more remote locations are generally serviced by smaller minibuses. Minibuses can be found at Phnom Penh’s larger markets.
  • The rail system is being rehabilitated, with a few sections of track in operation between Phnom Penh, Kampot and Sihanoukville as well as between Phnom Penh towards Poipet for passengers and used to haul freight. There are plans to build on this and connect to Thailand.
  • Passenger boats operate between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap but are fairly expensive in comparison to the bus. Within Phnom Penh, boat taxi services were also introduced in 2019. Ferries are used for river crossings.
  • Ridesharing apps have become more dominant in Cambodia since 2017. Initially Uber (since bought out by Grab), PassApp, WeGo and more all compete and have transformed how people commute.

Airport Essentials in Cambodia

Cambodia has three operational international airports in 2020: Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville.  There are several more regional and private airports across Cambodia but the entire airport network is undergoing improvements and new airports are being constructed.

  • In a bid to boost tourism and cater for the ever-increasing number of visitors to the country, the Phnom Penh and Siem Reap international airports were initially upgraded in 2014 and have seen more since. The development saw an extension of parking lots and terminals, including more check-in and immigration counters and new baggage handling systems.
  • In 2018, the three international airports, for the first time, hit a milestone of 10 million passengers.
  • Sihanoukville Airport also has undergone improvements and the runway is being extended in 2020. In addition, the facilities improved and the airport’s capacity has been increased.
  • Airline offices are commonly found in downtown Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, or at the airports themselves. The actual services available at each office will vary – keep in mind too that customer service lines are not always open in Cambodia, staff may not always speak English and consequently, calls may need to be made to Singapore, Malaysia or Thailand for international airlines.
  • A local travel agent will usually be able to help if the airline is unresponsive.
  • Cambodia Angkor Air is the national flag carrier. However, a number of new Cambodian-based airlines (often with Chinese backing) have opened up since 2017. These include JC Airlines, Lanmei Airlines, and Cambodia Airways.
  • Tourism and hospitality are regulated by the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Economics and Finance.
  • There are two industry associations operating in Cambodia: the Cambodia Restaurant Association and the Cambodia Hotel Association. They represent the industry to the government.
  • New airports are being constructed, with a new Phnom Penh Airport starting its 1st phase in 2019 (expected to be completed by July 2022), the Dara Sakor International Airport is being built in the southwestern province of Koh Kong (due for 2023) and the new Siem Reap airport is also due in 2023 with more regional hubs being investigated.
  • Visitors to Cambodia can get a visa on arrival at the airports, simply by filling in a form, providing two passport photos and paying the requisite fee.
  • A basic tourist visa (Type “T” – Strictly non-working visa) and is valid for a month and can be extended for one more month. As of October 2014, you can now apply online for a tourist evisa: www.evisa.gov.kh
  • The Cambodian Foreign ministry warns visitors of the many fraudulent visa websites as: cambodiaevisa.com, welovecambodia.com, evisacambodia.com, cambodiaonarrival.com, eVisa-Cambodia.com etc.
  • Business visas, which are now referred to as an ordinary visa (E class), can be extended indefinitely by up to one year at a time without any requirement to leave the country. The visas for travelling and working do change so its best to check before booking.
  • Having a job or a business is not required to obtain a business visa, however, should one wish to change from a tourist visa to a business visa they must first leave and then re-enter the country. Other changes were also added in 2017. You can find out more here or contact your embassy or the Cambodian Department of Immigration.
  • The new FPCS was enforced in 2020, and Foreigners must register on the FPCS (Foreigners Present in Cambodia System) for visa extensions and as tourists.
  • Most flights arriving into, or departing from, Cambodia operate during the working day, though there are also several late evening departures to countries such as Japan, Korea and China.
  • There are dozens of airlines operating flights to Cambodia including regional operators such as AirAsia, Bangkok Airways, Silk Air, and international airlines such as Thai Airways International, Emirates and Qatar Airways.
  • Flight schedules can be found on airline websites and Cambodia Airport’s website.
  • Upon arrival in Cambodia, travellers must fill in a customs declaration form and submit it to the customs official.
  • In cases where self-selection routes are operated, passengers have the option of making their customs declaration in either the Red Channel or the Green (nothing to declare).
  • Outbound passengers should note that the export of antiquities requires a permit from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts as well as an export permit from the General Department of Customs and Excise.
  • Do a feasibility study: Dozens of restaurants close every year in the capital of Phnom Penh due to a lack of long term planning.
  • Pick concept and target market carefully: Look at your prospective market and target your business very specifically.
  • Choose the location carefully: In hospitality and tourism, location is key. Based on your concept and target market, choose the location that’s right for you.
  • Plan projected budget meticulously: Make sure registration and legal fees are factored in. Add an extra 15% of leeway into your projected amount of capital and time.
  • Prepare for growth: The hospitality and tourism market is poised for enormous growth in the near future. If you don’t prepare for growth, you risk your competitors overtaking you.
  • Account for seasonality: From March to June you can expect a significant drop in the number of visitors to the country. Account for this in your business plan.
  • The Ministry of Tourism launched a new online system in April 2015 for the registration of tourism-related businesses and tour guides.
  • The intention of the new process is to increase the efficiencies of the licence inspection process and increase government revenues through compliance.
  • To aid tax collection and accountability, each business will now be issued an ID and Quick Response Code.
  • Businesses and tour guides can now visit www.cambodiatourismindustry.org to submit their online applications.
  • Each new licence will be issued three days after submission. The system will notify businesses a month before their licence is up for yearly renewal.
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