PHNOM PENH (The Phnom Penh Post/Asia News Network): A large influx of holidaymakers is expected in Siem Reap over this year’s Water Festival, as the local tourism department reports a tally of more than 1.6 million tourists to the historically-rich northwestern province in the first nine months of this year.
Known locally as Bon Om Touk, the Water Festival falls from Nov 7-9 this year. The second day of the festival aligns with the date of the full moon on the Khmer lunar calendar month of Katdoek (or Kartika in Sanskrit), which is said to be when the long-cycle rice crop is ready for harvest.
From January to September, the Siem Reap provincial Department of Tourism logged 1,634,352 tourists to the province, versus the 126,719 it recorded during the corresponding period last year, confirmed a report obtained by The Post on Nov 1.
“National” and “international” tourists accounted for 1,500,200 and 134,152, respectively, up from 120,552 and 6,167 in the year-ago period. The department did not specifically mention which category foreign residents in Cambodia were included in, but the Khmer-language terms seem to suggest “international”.
China topped the list of source markets for international tourists at 13,809, up from 3,316 in the same time last year, followed by France (13,413; up from 474), the UK (13,006; 166), the US (12,912; 362), Vietnam (8,485; 119), Thailand (6,965; 171), Germany (6,250; 87), Australia (5,442; 84), South Korea (3,630; 202) and Japan (3,510; 210).
September was a fairly busy month, with 229,582 tourists counted – 206,000 “national” and 23,582 “foreign” – or 26.43 per cent higher than the monthly average during the nine-month period.
Speaking to The Post on Nov 1, Siem Reap Provincial Administration director Ly Vannak said that the province is bringing in more tourists due to, inter alia, better road infrastructure, a greater variety of attractions, improved street lighting, urban beautification initiatives and the government’s effective approach to Covid-19 control.
He voiced optimism for a meaningful uptick in new jobs and income for locals as tourist inflows pick up in the coming period.
When asked about the upcoming Water Festival, Vannak responded: “We expect loads of national and international guests to visit Siem Reap in the coming week for the long holiday, as control over Covid-19 improves.”
Similarly, Angkor Tourist Guide Association president Khieu Thy said tourist arrivals to the province have been on a gradual upward trajectory since the vast majority of countries reopened, dialling back pandemic restrictions as Covid metrics improved.
Reflecting on next week’s celebrations, he said: “I believe there’ll be many national and international holidaymakers coming to Siem Reap for the upcoming Water Festival, especially locals.
“Subsequently, more foreign guests will come see Angkor Wat. I am optimistic about the recovery of the Cambodian tourism sector,” he said.
Highlighting examples of progress made towards recovery in the provincial tourism sector, Thy shared that a fair share of previously-empty or -shuttered hotels have received bookings until the end of the year, and that former industry players are increasingly returning to their trade after having dabbled into other types of business during darker Covid times.
According to the Ministry of Tourism, through the strategies laid out in the Siem Reap Tourism Development Master Plan 2021-2035 and supplementary instruments, the province could attract at least 10.9 million domestic tourists and 7.5 million international tourists per annum by 2035.