Cambodia and China appear to be pressing ahead with plans to raise the number of direct commercial flights between them to at least 300 per week, which private sector operators envisage will underpin strong growth in tourist flows from the Asian economic powerhouse.

This comes as Minister in Charge of the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) Mao Havannall and Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) administrator Song Zhiyong signed a cooperation agreement on aviation safety on April 25.

At an accompanying meeting, Havannall asked the Chinese side to give priority to relaunching previously operated direct flights between the two countries and adding new ones to at least reach the 300-a-week target, as Beijing reopens its economy.

The civil aviation chief seemed to suggest that Beijing had expressed keenness on the idea, as a “priority” initiative, and mentioned that China has acknowledged that the Kingdom “was one of the first countries to receive Chinese tourists”.

He asserted that the civil aviation and business communities “cordially welcome” the Chinese, as well as Beijing’s “commitment to provide quality services and security for air passengers to and from China and Cambodia”.

Pacific Asia Travel Association Cambodia Chapter chairman Thourn Sinan told The Post on April 26 that Chinese tourists are arriving to the Kingdom in greater numbers, but still not quite on par with the period just before the advent of Covid-19.

“Since China reopened its economy and allowed its people to travel abroad, Cambodia has been a target country. We’ve seen Chinese tourist inflows begin to improve … increasing flights will crucially provide more options for the Chinese to travel to Cambodia,” he said.

According to Havannall, there had been “more than 400” weekly flights prior to Covid, operated by 22 airlines and connecting Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville with 37 Chinese destinations.

There are currently “around 100” weekly flights operated by 11 airlines – three from Cambodia and eight from China, he said, assuring that the 300-a-week target would be reached, “corroborated by plans of the airlines from either country that have applied for flights for this season”.

The Ministry of Tourism tallied 837,446 international visitors in the first two months of 2023, up 778.6 per cent from the 95,321 recorded in the same period last year.

Thailand accounted for the largest share of these travellers, at 274,950 or 32.83 per cent, which was up 950.7 per cent year-on-year, followed by Vietnam (131,196; 15.67%; up 396.4%), mainland China (79,435; 9.49%; up 1,347.2%) and Laos (41,040; 4.90%; up 16,719.7%).

In 2022, Cambodia received nearly 2.28 million international visitors, an increase of 1,059 per cent over a year earlier. Of those, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos collectively accounted for 1.410 million, which was up 1,252.6 per cent versus the 104,246 registered in 2021, ministry figures show.