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From 2004 to 2009, Cambodia was among the fastest growing countries for the number of arrivals, doubling over the period to reach just over 2 million in 2009. Incoming tourist receipts grew by 160% over the same period to total US$1.5 billion. However, the global recession put the brakes on the annual double digit growth, but arrivals still grew by 1.7% in 2009.
In 2009, 46% of visitors went to Siem Reap Province to visit the famous temples of Angkor Wat. It has become the must-see tourist attractions for Asian tourists, which account for 63% of international visitors to the country. Increasing wealth and air lift has turned the city of Siem Reap into a world class tourist destination with lots of luxury hotels and resorts, golf courses, and restaurants.
In Siem Reap, the leading 5-star hotels are the Raffles Grand However, dependency on Asian tourists hurt the country in 2009 as visitors from South Korea dropped by 26% due to the devaluation of the won. Arrivals from Japan, another top source market, declined by 10%. However, arrivals from Vietnam jumped 50% to become the largest source market for Cambodia.
Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos have united to form the Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam Development Triangle (CLV) Zone to improve cross-border access, in particular, the international border checkpoints at Prechak border gate in Kampot province and Ozadao border gate in Ratanakiri province were upgraded.
To avoid depending on Angkor Wat for drawing in tourists, the government is developing other areas to lengthen the average stay in the country and drive repeat visits. One of the areas is the capital, Phnom Penh.
The government is also looking to develop the Kampot province and Preah Vihear temple. A heritage network project is planned by the Cambodian government, which will create a link from Siem Reap to Preah Vihear first and then build a connection between World Heritage Sites in the country and Thailand and Laos. Stung Treng and Kratie provinces along the Mekong River route are being developed as new ecotourism destinations.
The coastal region and its islands are being developed, especially with the main city of Sihanoukville. For example, in June 2008, The Koh Puos Cambodia Investment Group, a subsidiary of Vironia Enterprises Limited from Russia, was granted a 99-year lease and approval to develop Koh Puos (Snake) Island into a tourist resort at a total cost of US$472 million.
In July 2008, Royal Group and Millennium Group launched an investment plan for a new resort on Koh Rong Island, on the East Coast of Cambodia. The project is expected to cost US$2 billion. The two partners are looking for other partners to join this development which on completion will include a new airport, apartments, golf courses and casinos. The Royal Group is Cambodia’s largest mobile phone operator, while Millennium Group is a leading Asia Pacific regional developer.
However, it is important to note that there is still a great deal of road and airport infrastructure that needs to be improved and areas outside of Siem Reap and Phnom Penh have a way to go before meeting international tourism standards.
An economic recovery underway in Asia Pacific, excluding Japan, bodes well for Cambodia. From 2009 to 2014, international arrivals are expected to reach almost 3 million, growing by 43%. This is expected to be driven by arrivals from Vietnam and China thanks their growing middle classes.
The political unrest in Thailand could undermine short term growth as many tourists from long haul destinations use Bangkok as a launching point into Cambodia. Another short term issue is the poor transport infrastructure in most areas of the country, which is in the process of being improved.
However, over the long term, increasing airlift is expected both within Asia and to long haul destinations in Europe. The increasing awareness of Angkor Wat and the development of Phnom Penh, the coast and the Mekong river will be long term drivers of growth.