Vang Vieng, Lao PDR

New airports, highways to spur Cambodia’s tourism

By Sangeetha Amarthalingam 16 May 2023

When the bigger Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport opens in 2024, it is set to handle 10 million passengers. Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/Leonid Andronov

The Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport, a bigger gateway into the historic city with the capacity of handling 10 million passengers by 2024, is expected to welcome flights this October.

The US$880 million airport, located about 50 kilometres from Siem Reap city centre in Soutr Nikum district, is built by Chinese joint-venture company Angkor International Airport Investment and will replace the existing airport, which is smaller in size.

According to Thong Rathasak, Secretary of State for the Ministry of Tourism who was quoted by news portal Cambodianess, the new Siem Reap airport is a 4E airport that can accommodate all passenger aircrafts because of its 3.6km-long runway.

Spread over 1,700 hectares, it has 38 passenger gates which are equipped with the latest technology for passenger safety and security.

Siem Reap, home to the ancient 12th century Angkor Wat temple complex and archaeological park, has been a major tourism product for Cambodia for decades, which prompted the need to protect and preserve its architecture.

The new airport’s location, which is a distance away from Angkor Wat, was chosen to reduce the impact emanating from the airport on the old structures.

Bring tourism to next level

Prior to the pandemic, the existing airport received 1.7 million international visitors in 2019, with a capacity of handling up to two million passengers.

Chhay Sivlin, president of Cambodia Tourism Association, said the new Siem Reap airport would enable more connectivity to other parts of the region.

She foresees a spurt in the development of areas surrounding the airport and the creation of new products and services to meet the needs of the tourists.

In addition, job opportunities would increase in the province and nearby areas, ultimately boosting the local economy.

“The new airport will be capable of handling larger aircrafts, accommodate more passengers, and have more space for additional facilities or services catering to the passengers company while waiting to board their flights,” Sivlin said.

Sharing a similar sentiment, Thourn Sinan, chairman of Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Cambodia chapter, said if everything goes as planned, it could increase the number of flights with more international connectivity.

The Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport, a bigger gateway into the historic city with the capacity of handling 10 million passengers by 2024, is expected to welcome flights this October.

– Thourn Sinan, chairman, PATA Cambodia chapter

“I understand that the airport is bigger in size but what’s important is ensuring more air connectivity to the country.

“If it can bring more connectivity to Siem Reap, I believe it will lead tourism to a next level as well as economic development in the area,” he added.

Over in Phnom Penh and Dara Sakor in Koh Kong, two new 4E airports are being built by Chinese investors to support the growth of tourism in the future.

In 2019, Cambodia recorded 6.6 million visitors, with two thirds of them arriving by air in the country’s three existing airports including the Sihanoukville International Airport in the southwest coast.

Busy weekends ahead

The construction of the airports are happening amid a massive public infrastructure development including expressways, which is underway in Cambodia.

About US$50 billion has been touted for the expressway constructions, upgrading and expansion of roads nationwide and augmenting infrastructures at international border checkpoints over the next 10 years.

While this is part of the logistics and transport masterplan to enhance freight movement, increase Cambodia’s business competitiveness within Southeast Asia and grow the economy, it is also expected to boost travel and tourism.

To date, three expressways have been planned to connect Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, and the capital city with border towns Bavet (Vietnam) and Poipet (Thailand), following the opening of Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville expressway last October.

Construction of the US$1.6 billion Phnom Penh-Bavet expressway is slated to begin this June and will link with the Bavet-Ho Chi Minh highway, Sun Chanthol, minister of Public Works and Transport, was quoted as saying by local media.

An initial study on the Phnom Penh and Siem Reap expressway is almost complete.

Commenting on the progress in travel time between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, PATA Cambodia’s Thourn said it only takes 1.5 hours to reach destinations compared to three or four hours previously.

“Since its completion, we see most hotels and restaurants in Sihanoukville busy every weekend. I also believe the Siem Reap highway and the one between Phnom Penh and the Vietnam border would help grow the economy and travel,” he said.

Sinan foresees temples on the border towns drawing more tourists and rejuvenating border tourism as well as enhancing domestic tourism.


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