Efforts of the Cambodian Ministry of Tourism are starting to pay off after years promoting the country’s beach destination of Sihanoukville as the next travel frontier in Cambodia.
A premier beach resort in Cambodia was not what travellers think of when booking a trip to Cambodia, according to Bangkok-based Backyard Travel sales manager Sibylle Rotzler.
Until recently, getting to the seaside getaway of Sihanoukville was only accessible by a treacherous four hour drive from Phnom Penh that sees so many accidents that Cambodians usually insist on praying en-route at a temple.
Awareness of the destination is growing since accessibility was made easier with scheduled flights to Sihanoukville from Siem Reap that restarted at the end of last year. The area also saw its first ship to cruise the Gulf of Thailand in a decade drop anchor with 1,000 Chinese tourists onboard this year.
Marriott is due to open a luxury resort in Sihanoukville in 2013, featuring an 18-hole golf course and a marina. Meanwhile, construction of a bridge connecting the mainland to an island off the coast was completed last year with the same developer building a luxurious resort complete with a casino in the area.
According to official figures, foreign visitors to Cambodia’s beaches grew eight percent to 180,000 people. This growth is expected to increase further after the country’s coastline was admitted to the prestigious Most Beautiful Bays in the World Club last year.
However efforts to put Sihanoukville on the map were hindered by attempts to diversify Cambodia’s tourist attractions beyond the Angkor temples and the French colonial capital Phnom Penh. This was stalled further when in late 2008; Cambodia became one of the few countries in the world without its own domestic airline.
A refurbishment of Sihanoukville Airport was completed at the end of 2009; however scheduled flights into this airport were delayed by two years. Critics say this was a result of the country’s “so called” flag carrier, Cambodia Angkor Air (that is 49 percent owned by Vietnam Airlines) generating little interest in developing new domestic destinations, instead channelling tourists in and out of Vietnam.
Cambodia Angkor Air marketing executive Kloung Sivly said the relaunch of the scheduled flights, that flew 5,741 passengers to Sihanoukville in the first half of this year, fitted well with the government’s plan to promote links to the seaside resort.