Architectural marvels attracting tourists, but experts note infrastructure hurdle

By Ma Jingjing and Chen Qingqing Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/10 21:48:39

Recent years have seen a surge in Chinese tourists to Cambodia. Latest data from online travel company showed that Chinese tourists to the Southeast Asian nation soared 198.6 percent year-on-year in the first nine months of 2016. Experts said that the sound relationship between the two countries as well as Cambodia's famous cultural and natural heritage encouraged Chinese tourists to visit the country. The kingdom aims to attract 2 million tourists from China annually by 2020. Some tourist sites also accept Chinese yuan, and UnionPay can be used in duty-free shops. Several Chinese cities also have direct flights to the Cambodian capital as well as Siem Reap, home to the Angkor Wat temple complex. However, experts said that underdeveloped infrastructure may hinder the country's tourism.

Tourists visit the inner courtyard of Angkor Wat temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo: IC

Whether drawn by its architectural marvels or detouring plans because of problems in other regional countries, rising numbers of Chinese tourists are spending holidays in Cambodia.

"I am attracted by Cambodia's Angkor Wat temple. The splendid architectural achievement with its detailed bas-reliefs is a visual feast," a 30-something tourist from Beijing, surnamed Wang, told the Global Times on Sunday.

Wang went on a personalized tour to Cambodia in September.

"Many Chinese are seen in tourist destinations like the Royal Palace complex and Angkor Wat temple, though not as many as those in Thailand," he said.

The Southeast Asian nation has risen to the top of several international travel rankings in recent years for its Angkor Wat temple, the main site of a 12th century temple complex and city that is the largest religious site in the world.

The country's tourism industry is also adapting to Chinese travelers, with several direct flights serving Chinese cities.

Noel, a 32-year-old Cambodian who owns a store selling handmade soap at the Russian market, a popular tourist stop in Phnom Penh, said that she's seen a rise in the number of her Chinese customers.

"When I opened my shop in 2014, there were almost no Chinese customers," Noel said.

"Now you can see several Chinese come to our shop every day. Especially Saturdays and Sundays, about 90 percent of our customers are Chinese, who spend an average of $30."

The publicity director of China's online travel booking platform Ctrip, Peng Liang, said in an interview Sunday with the Global Times that more Chinese tourists are choosing trips that include the famous temple complex and its home city, Siem Reap.

Latest data from online tourism and ticket-booking site shows that the number of Chinese tourists to Cambodia soared 198.6 percent year-on-year in the first nine months of 2016.

China's ambassador to the country, Xiong Bo, noted from the capital, Phnom Penh, saying that in the first seven months of the year, the number of Chinese traveling to Cambodia rose 12.4 percent year-on-year to 444,900.

Ctrip also noted the popularity of the destination.

"In the first half of 2016, more than 20,000 Chinese tourists booked their tours to Cambodia via Ctrip's platform, and it has also ranked among the most popular overseas travel destinations during the week-long National Day holidays," Peng said.

Beauty and relative safety

"As the Thai tourism market has been affected by fears of instability and the Zika virus has driven potential tourists to avoid Singapore, Cambodia became the most popular destination in Southeast Asia during the National Day holidays," Gao Ran, production (R&D) center business director at CAISSA Travel Management Co Ltd, said in an interview with the Global Times on Sunday.

"The sound relationship and improved economic cooperation between the two countries also drive the increase of Chinese travelers to Cambodia," Zhang Lingyun, director of the Tourism Development Academy at Beijing Union University, told the Global Times on Sunday.

Peng said that Chinese tourists are increasingly attracted by Cambodia's cultural and natural heritage.

"Also, the social stability, safe environment and hospitality are major factors for this enthusiasm," he said.

Cambodia aims to attract 2 million tourists annually from China by 2020, the local newspaper Khmer Times reported in June.

To improve travel convenience, local authorities have urged tourist sites to accept payment in Chinese yuan, Peng said, adding that some services are also offered in Chinese. 

The Chinese UnionPay system can be used in most stores in the country, adding to the convenience of Chinese travelers, the head of the public relations department at, Gan Tingting, told the Global Times on Sunday.

Furthermore, this year the luxury retailer DFS Group Ltd opened the T Galleria mall in downtown Siem Reap.

Meanwhile, direct flights from major cities in China as well as visas on arrival are also boosting tourism, Gao said.

Peng noted that Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Hangzhou have already launched direct flights to Cambodia.

As more and more Chinese tourists prefer personalized travel routes, local services are accommodating them, including restaurants and hotels, Gao said.

Zhang said that a shift in Chinese tourists' travel goals is also boosting tourism to many Southeast Asian countries.

"In the past, travelers mainly aimed to sightsee and shop, but now more tourists would like to experience local life. So Chinese are increasingly traveling to nearby countries where they could enjoy different cultures but at a relatively low price," he said. said that six of the 10 most popular destinations during the National Day holidays were Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam, according to its data.

Challenges remain

"Among hot Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Cambodia has fewer tourist destinations and duty-free shops, and the itinerary is much simpler," said Wang, the Beijing traveler.

In addition, Cambodia's underdeveloped infrastructure and economy also make the country less attractive compared with Thailand, Zhang from Beijing Union University said.

Wang echoed this.

"The transportation is inconvenient. There is almost no taxi on the streets of Phnom Penh, and you have to ride a tuk-tuk when you want to get to a place," Wang said, describing the ubiquitous motorbike-drawn carriage similar to the three-wheeled motorized rickshaws found in Thailand and India.

The lack of infrastructure, especially in terms of transportation, may hinder further development of the tourism industry in Cambodia, but the country should not be compared with other top destinations like South Korea and Japan, Xu Xiaolei, manager of marketing at China CYTS Tours Holding Ltd, told the Global Times on Sunday.

"They are quite different," he said. "Because Chinese tourists may want to travel to Japan several times, but they may only go to Cambodia once." 

"And Cambodia should become a place that preserves its natural resources, which are major attraction for foreign tourists, not like other countries that spend a lot on tourism investment such as building hotels and shopping malls," Xu said.
Newspaper headline: Chinese increasingly holiday in Cambodia

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