The Ministry of Tourism reported a surge in foreign tourist arrivals in Cambodia for the first eight months of 2023. Over 3.5 million international visitors were recorded, marking a 250.8 per cent increase compared to the same period last year. A significant 84.7 per cent of these travellers originated from the Asia Pacific region.

Despite this growth, the current numbers still fall short by 19.7 per cent when compared to peak tourist arrivals in 2019. In a breakdown of the 2023 figures, European and American visitors made up 10.4 and 4.6 per cent of the arrivals, up 288.1 and 210.5 per cent, respectively. The mode of arrivals varied with 64.3 per cent arriving by land, 34.7 per cent by air and a mere 1.1 per cent via inland waterways.

Thailand heads the chart as the top tourist source with 1,186,999 visitors. Vietnam, China and Laos followed, with 641,758, 364,844 and 212,984 visitors respectively.

Thiem Thuong, president of the Cambodia Chinese Tour Guide Association (CCTGA), told The Post that while the ongoing Covid-19 crisis isn’t currently hampering tourism, Siem Reap’s foreign footfall remains below pre-2020 numbers. Presently, the majority of those visiting Siem Reap’s traditional sites are locals.

“Even though Cambodia’s borders have been reopened for over a year, we’re still seeing fewer foreign guests than we did pre-pandemic. We hope to welcome more in the near future,” he said.

Khieu Thy, president of the Angkor Tourist Guide Association, noted an increase in visitors to Siem Reap’s temples since the onset of 2023.

“Tourism is intrinsically linked with the economy and politics. While the numbers from distant countries have been low, we expect a change by the end of the year as the season picks up,” Thy said.

He remained optimistic, asserting that the private sector is well-prepared for an influx of visitors.

“The end of the year will provide a clearer picture of the situation,” Thy added.

Hor Sarun, secretary of state at the ministry, remains hopeful about the Kingdom’s tourism future.

Addressing a workshop on “Good Hospitality, Safe Tourism” in Svay Rieng Province on August 14, he predicted that by the end of 2025 or early 2026, the country could return to its pre-pandemic numbers, aiming for around 7 million guests.

For context, 2019 saw the highest number of international visitors in Cambodia at 6,610,592, a 6.6 per cent increase from 2018. The three bordering nations, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, contributed significantly to these figures.

In contrast, 2022 saw only 2.28 million international visitors, although it was still an impressive increase of 1,059 per cent over 2021. Tourists from Thailand, Vietnam and Laos alone reached 1,409,980 last year.