More than two million Chinese tourists visited Cambodia in the first 10 months of the year, the government said in a report, representing nearly a quarter increase for the same period in 2018, but a local tourism association suggested numbers had dwindled and yielded little revenue for Cambodians.
The 2.03 million Chinese tourists who traveled to Cambodia from January to October increased 24.4 percent year-on-year, and made up the vast majority—38.3 percent—of visitors from any one country, the Ministry of Tourism said in a report released on Tuesday.
Tourists from neighboring Vietnam represented a distant second with 702,000, up 16.2 percent from 619,000 a year earlier, the ministry said.
Nearly as many Chinese visited for business purposes as pleasure, according to the report, or 936,000 and 1.08 million, respectively. Comparative figures for the first 10 months of 2018 were not provided.
While the report did not include a breakdown by country, of the 3.7 million tourists who arrived by air over the period, 1.4 million entered through Siem Reap International Airport, which is nearest to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temple complex, down 12.4 percent from 1.6 million a year ago.
The ministry said that arrivals by air increased over the same period to Phnom Penh International Airport, with 3.7 million visitors, up 10.6 percent from 2018, and to Sihanoukville International Airport—the airport closest to Sihanoukville city, where vast numbers of Chinese nationals have relocated in recent years—with 603,000 visitors, up 265.9 percent from a year ago.
The report said that from January to October this year, 3.5 million foreign nations visited Phnom Penh and the surrounding area, up 27.5 percent from 2018, while those visiting the Angkor area of Siem Reap province dropped 13.7 percent to 1.8 million from a year earlier. Coastal areas, which include Sihanoukville, saw an increase in foreign tourists to 1 million from 712,000 in 2018.
In a report by China’s official Xinhua News Agency, Cambodian Tourism Minister Thong Khon said that China is “a huge market” for Cambodia’s tourism industry.
The minister said that in 2018, Cambodia received 6.2 million foreign tourists, earning a gross revenue of U.S. $4.35 billion, adding that tourism contributed 12.7 percent to the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Thong Khon did not provide a breakdown in revenue by nationality.
Fewer tourists and revenue
But Khieu Thy, the president of the Siem Reap Angkor Association, told RFA’s Khmer Service on Wednesday that Siem Reap province saw substantially fewer Chinese tourists in the first 10 months of 2019 because “most of them have already visited” the temple complex.
Last year, he said, aircraft landed at Siem Reap International Airport three times daily, but in 2019, the airport has been lucky to see one a day.
“The Chinese tourists have been regularly visiting Kampong Som city [near Sihanoukville International Airport], but not so much in Siem Reap Angkor,” he said.
“We haven’t seen many and it’s been quiet compared to last year.”
Khieu Thy said that those Chinese tourists who do come generally provide less revenue to Cambodians than tourists from other countries because they visit in large groups that require fewer guides and drivers.
“The Chinese nationals who come to visit Siem Reap’s Angkor Wat only need one guide and one taxi driver,” he said.
“They eat meals at Chinese restaurants and then go shop at Chinese stores. Tourists from Western countries, on the other hand, always take taxis and buy things at Khmer markets.”
Tourism workers in Laos and Myanmar have expressed similar complaints about the lack of Chinese spending, with Lao tour operators calling the Chinese-led tours “Zero Dollar Tours” because local businesses earn next to nothing from them.
Chinese investment has flowed into Sihanoukville in recent years, but Cambodians regularly chafe at what they call unscrupulous business practices and unbecoming behavior by Chinese businessmen and residents.
Cambodia’s immigration department deported 906 Chinese, including 172 women, to China during the first nine months of this year, according to Interior Ministry figures.
Some of those deported were involved in economic crimes in China and were hiding in Cambodia, while others were involved in illegal online gambling schemes or telecommunications fraud in Cambodia, sources said.
Reported and translated by Aun Pheap for RFA’s Khmer Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.