As the globe saw in 2024 with New Year’s Eve celebrations, major city hubs in Cambodia reportedly drew in good-sized crowds, and the tourism sector will hope for an increase in international and domestic numbers throughout the remainder of the high season and the year.
We look at the region’s tourism numbers at the tail end of 2023 and what positives lie ahead for Cambodia’s tourism industry, which is still one of the four pillars supporting Cambodia’s economy.
Cambodia NYE 2023/2024 – By The Numbers
According to reports in local Cambodian media and based on government releases, the following tourism numbers were reported over the NYE celebrations in the Kingdom of Cambodia (the three days from December 29–31, 2023) – it should be noted, that different reports have had conflicting numbers.
The number of international tourists at the locations was a small percentage compared to domestic tourism numbers. A Ministry of Tourism spokesperson confirmed there were 3,285,868 visitors of which 58,722 were foreigners.
- Phnom Penh – The capital was unsurprisingly the busiest but saw nowhere near the number compared to Water Festival 2022. In total around 585,000 Cambodians and just over 25,000 international guests were present.
- Kampot – At 400,000 visitors, the riverside town was perhaps surprisingly one of the most popular, but domestic tourists make up for the lion’s share with slightly less than 2,500 international tourists on NYE itself.
- Battambang– More than 350,000 national and international tourists visited – the cultural city was added to the UNESCO Creative City Network in October 2023.
- Sihanoukville – Sihanoukville Provincial Department of Tourism reported just under 350,000 for the NYE period in the coastal province. The authorities had just before the peak period announced free high-speed public Wi-Fi at Ochheuteal and Otres beaches.*
- Siem Reap – More than 300,000 tourists visited Siem Reap – which traditionally has been one of the most popular destinations for NYE. The number of international visitors was comparatively small at just under ten thousand.
In Phnom Penh, the city seemed more subdued and the traffic chaos usually synonymous with NYE wasn’t as bad as previous years. The riverside area attracts the biggest crowds for the fireworks displays at midnight.
*As many as 80,000 vehicles are reported to have used the Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville expressway over three days during New Year’s Eve, and with at least two more expressways under development or being studied, it will only encourage local tourism in the future.
Regional Tourism Numbers 2023
Across the Southeast Asian region, in Thailand’s Bangkok and Pattaya, in Vietnam, at Indonesia’s tourist hotspots, and Malaysia – which saw the biggest number of tourism numbers in SEA between January and November 2023 – tourism has been rebounding, even without the return of mass Chinese tourism.
Although Cambodia has fared well – reports often compare data to the previous couple of years which is not a true reflection – as the past year certainly seemed like the pandemic was in the rearview mirror.
To be fair, the Cambodian government and tourism sector have also said that they don’t expect pre-tourism numbers until 2025.
The top-ranking SEA countries for foreign tourism arrivals from Jan-Nov 2023 according to data reported and collected from the tourism ministries of regional countries, were:
- Malaysia – 26.1 million (the same as 2019 levels pre-pandemic)
- Thailand – 24.6 million (The country’s tourism authority says this increased to 27,252,488 by 24th December 2023)
- Singapore – 12.4 million
- Vietnam – 11.2 million (70 per cent of pre-pandemic numbers)
Indonesia, the Philippines, and Cambodia have recorded less than 10 million foreign arrivals – and at its peak, Cambodia recorded its highest number of international guests in 2019 with 6,610,592 visitors. For the period from January to October 2023, Cambodia recorded 4.4 million foreign visitors.
Cambodia’s premium tourist attraction remains the Angkor Archeological Park, and just shy of 800,000 international visitors were recorded in 2023, generating USD $37.1 million in revenue, said Angkor Enterprise.
Pre-pandemic, in 2019, there were 2.2 million international visitors, generating USD $99 million in revenue.
Attracting International Tourism
Rebounding Chinese visitors (and a resurgence in its economy) never really materialised in 2023, but in an attempt to attract tourists, Malaysia and Thailand allowed for 30-day visa-free entry for citizens from mainland China and India in late 2023.
Indonesia has also considered granting visa-free entry to nationals of 20 countries, including China, while Singapore is planning on allowing a 30-day mutual visa exemption for Chinese tourists early in 2024.
The Kingdom received slightly less than half a million Chinese visitors during the first 11 months of 2023, according to the Ministry of Tourism. International visitors from Thailand, Vietnam, and China accounted for 63.1 per cent of all foreign visitors to Cambodia in the first 11 months of 2023 and there have been strides made in easier cross-border payments via QR code agreements.
Cambodia still has visas for most international visitors but as of January 1st 2024, has started trialling its electronic forms for arrivals. Thailand has for most of 2023 dropped all paper forms for all visa-on-arrival visitors, and Vietnam also relaxed some e-visa programs in 2023.
The pandemic should have been a lesson for diversification, and although resurgent Chinese tourism would be beneficial, attracting tourists from a varied number of regions with targeted marketing and better flight options will be beneficial in the long run.
Cambodian Airport & Infrastructure Progress 2024
Flights prices worldwide remained high in 2023 compared to pre-pandemic costs, with estimates of 30 to 40 per cent higher costs – but these are expected to continue to normalise in 2024. Add in economic insecurity globally in 2023 and the geo-political conflicts, and, understandably, there were fewer tourists from Europe, the US and farther afield.
The operational launch of the Siem Reap Angkor International Airport (SAI) was seen as a positive in 2023, but still relatively new routes or airlines have been announced in its wake. This is despite Top Sopheak, Secretary of State and spokesman of the Ministry of Tourism, saying that the resumption of flights and new air routes have contributed to the growth in the number of foreign tourists visiting.
The increased transport prices to reach the airport from the city have also been raised as a concern and one that needs to be addressed and planned for when the new Phnom Penh International Airport (Techo International Airport) comes online in the coming years. This is expected to be the first half of 2025 and the airport is located roughly 40 kilometres south of the capital.
The latest update on the airport’s progress is that China Construction Third Engineering Bureau (CCTEB) are in a race to be on time to complete the phase one deadline for the airport terminal which is April 30, 2024. By the start of 2024, the completion rate is approximately 53.65 per cent.
Other tourism seaports along the Cambodian coast are also in development or have been completed but are awaiting approvals for immigration points to allow for easier modes of transport and entry between Cambodia and its neighbouring countries.
There remains plenty of optimism for 2024, as Cambodia is ranked well in terms of attracting foreign investment and its expected GDP growth in 2024 is among the highest in the region.
Some of the key tourism trends which have been identified in the Mekong region for the year ahead are:
- A shift in transportation choices, with land-based travel via buses and trains becoming more popular due to affordability and sustainability. Cambodia is actively working on improving its road and rail network and connectivity but these are long-term projects.
- Improved variety of attractions, innovation and creativity in destination marketing – develop unique experiences. The Visit Sieam Reap 2024 plan was announced in 2023.
- Appetite for Food, Farm and Agri-Tourism.
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