New Phuket Flight Contributing To Steady Passenger Growth

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A new flight connecting Siem Reap and Phuket island, off the West coast of Thailand, has increased the number of passengers in the Kingdom’s busiest airport.

The number of passengers and flights in Cambodia’s three main airports continues to experience robust growth, aided by a strong influx of Chinese tourists and the addition of a new airline to Siem Reap, according to the latest newsletter from Cambodia Airports.

As a whole, from January to November 2016, the three Cambodian international airports received more than 6.2 million passengers and 66,000 flight movements, amounting to an increase of 7.5 percent and 3.6 percent respectively compared to the same period last year.

To know more about these encouraging figures, the B2B Cambodia team turns to Sopontara Pichr, the route development manager at Cambodia Airports. We also discuss the implications of these numbers with tourism entrepreneurs and experts.

Thai Air Asia, the new player

Phnom Penh International Airport welcomed more than 316,000 passengers in November, an increase of 12 percent year-on-year. The capital’s airport handled 2,942 flight movements, a rise of 6.7 percent compared to the same month last year.

Meanwhile, passenger traffic at Sihanouk International Airport, the third largest airfield in the country and the only one servicing the coast, increased dramatically. It reached 21,756 passengers, an impressive number taking into consideration that only 6,606 passengers passed through the airport during the same month a year prior. A host of new international flights are the cause of the spectacular rise, the newsletter notes.

Siem Reap International Airport, the nation’s busiest airfield, saw more than three million passengers during the first 11 months of the year, a hike of 4.4 percent compared to the same period in 2015. The airport was visited by over 343,000 passengers in November alone, growing 11 percent from 2015.

This rise in passenger numbers was largely the result of an additional daily flight from Phuket, operated by Thai Air Asia. The flight is Siem Reap’s first direct service from the Thai holiday destination. The maiden flight, an Airbus A320 aircraft carrying 83 passengers, landed in Siem Reap in the early morning of 7 November.

Thai Air Asia is a joint venture of Air Asia, the region’s largest low-cost airline, and Thailand’s Asia Aviation. The airline’s fleet is made up of 50 Airbus aircrafts.

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Thai Air Asia’s maiden flight to Siem Reap departed Phuket on 7 November.

Cambodian Airports’ Sopontara believes the key to sustain this healthy growth across the nation’s three main airports lies in the diversification of what’s on offer for tourists. “To attract more tourists into the Kingdom we should be turning our attention to underserved destinations. The emerging leisure market and Cambodia’s untouched environment are aspects that we need to take advantage of,” he said in an email to B2B Cambodia.

According to Sopontara, there are currently 30 airlines operating in Phnom Penh, 35 in Siem Reap and 5 in Sihanoukville.

The Chinese market

China has catapulted itself to become the world’s largest demographic of international tourists, with Chinese travellers spending $229 billion overseas in 2015, according to German market research group GfK. Of the 109 million tourists China sent abroad last year, 694,712 visited Cambodia, with an additional 92,314 from Taiwan.

According to Cambodia Airports’ newsletter, 29 percent of the total visitors travelling through Phnom Penh International Airport were from China, while 23 percent came from Thailand. The figures were similar in Siem Reap, with 26 percent of visitors hailing from China, 21 percent from Vietnam, and 18 percent from Thailand.

Targeting these Chinese tourists should be a policy objective for the country’s tourism industry, said Amir Azimi, the co-founder of the Green Leaf Boutique Hotel in Siem Reap. “There is no question that the Chinese are the fastest growing demographic in the world for tourism and one of the largest wealth groups. It would be key to market to this demographic,” he said.

“The government should research the Chinese culture to see what their expectations are and work to offer tourist attractions and other ventures that would bring in larger groups of Chinese.  Educating hotels and tour services on what exactly the Chinese market wants will be a big help in order to keep them satisfied and coming back.”

Local celebrity chef and successful restaurateur Luu Meng, who also co-chairs the Government-Private Sector Working Group, shares Azimi’s views. He believes the government should be more active in promoting programs and policies that will help these tourists feel more at home.

“To attract more Chinese, the Ministry should encourage hotels, restaurants and tour guides to display information and menus in Chinese. Businesses should also have a Chinese-speaking service team and Chinese-speaking staff to welcome customers.”

The waning domestic air travel industry

Despite the vigorous growth experienced by the overall number of passengers, the newsletter notes that domestic travel “continues to decline against last year”. When asked about the dwindling numbers in domestic air travel, Sopontara said he believed the decline is the result of a variety of factors, including the improved conditions of the road that links the capital to Siem Reap.

Sopontara also mentioned the uncertainty that often surrounds the schedule of domestic flights as another likely cause for the decline. “The schedule for domestic flights keeps changing in the last minute, making it very hard for tour agencies to bundle domestic flights in a package,” he argued.

“Air fare discrimination”, or the practice of offering different fares depending on whether the customer is a local or a foreigner, is also contributing to the dip according to the route development manager.

Sopontara proposes a set of solutions to bump up the domestic air travel sector. “All airlines operating domestically must make it a point to operate their flight according to their schedules, no more last minute changes or cancellations. They must also strive for the harmonisation of air fares and for fair competition,” he concluded.