PHNOM PENH, Feb. 7 (Xinhua): Cambodia has pinned high hopes for its tourism recovery after Chinese tourists gradually returned to the South-East Asian nation.
Air China flight CA745, carrying some 125 Chinese tourists, arrived at the Phnom Penh International Airport from Beijing on Tuesday, receiving a warm welcome from Cambodia's Tourism Minister Thong Khon and Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia Wang Wentian as well as other officials.
Speaking to reporters at the welcoming ceremony, Khon said China is the most important outbound tourism market for the world, as some 155 million Chinese tourists travelled around the globe in the pre-Covid-19 pandemic era.
The minister added that the comeback of Chinese tourists has given a boost not only to the tourism sector, but also to the kingdom's economy as a whole.
"For Cambodia this year, we will try to attract between 800,000 and 1 million Chinese tourists," he said, noting that in January, the kingdom received 25,000 Chinese tourists.
Khon said Cambodia is expected to attract a total of 4 million international tourists in 2023, almost doubling from 2.27 million in 2022.
China was the largest source of foreign tourists to Cambodia in the pre-pandemic era, a Ministry of Tourism's report said, adding that the kingdom received 2.36 million Chinese tourists in 2019, accounting for 35.7 per cent of total tourist arrivals to the country and generating about US$1.8 billion in revenue.
Chhay Sivlin, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, said the return of Chinese tourists gives "high hopes" for the kingdom's tourism sector and economic growth in the post-pandemic era.
"We hope the return of Chinese tourists will help us recover our tourism sector rapidly because we see that Chinese tourists are very happy to come back to Cambodia," she told Xinhua.
"Chinese tourists like shopping and buying souvenirs, so their comeback will also revive tourism-related businesses such as souvenir producers," she added.
Chinese tourists are free to travel in Cambodia without any Covid-19 restrictions, Sivlin said, adding that the Angkor Archeological Park in Siem Reap province and coastal areas in Preah Sihanouk province will remain attractive destinations for them.
Poch Dola, a 35-year-old souvenir vendor near the National Museum in Phnom Penh, is confident that the return of Chinese tourists would boost his sales, which had been hit hard in the past few years due to the pandemic.
"I'm very happy because their arrivals will help boost our economy, especially our local products made for tourists," he told Xinhua.
"Our sales used to suffer from the global Covid-19 crisis, but since the start of this year, the number of tourists has increased, so our sales have also increased significantly," he said. "We hope their return will spark our tourism boom again like it was before the pandemic."
Vun Phanith, a lecturer at the Institute for International Studies and Public Policy, an arm of the state-run Royal University of Phnom Penh, said Cambodia will remain a popular destination for Chinese holidaymakers, given the historical and close relationship between the two countries.
"The comeback of Chinese travelers will be a great boon for our tourism and economy," he told Xinhua. "Their return will also help promote cultural exchanges and people-to-people connectivity between the two countries towards the building of a community with a shared future."
Tourism is one of the four pillars supporting Cambodia's economy. The country attracted up to 6.61 million international tourists in 2019, generating gross revenue of US$4.92 billion, according to the Ministry of Tourism. - Xinhua