Easing of China travel restrictions to benefit Cambodia airports

The airports in Cambodia are set to benefit from the easing of travel restrictions announced by China last month, according to VINCI Airports.

VINCI, which operates three airports in Cambodia, said in a statement: “The easing of travel restrictions in the first quarter of 2023 announced by the Chinese authorities should benefit these Asian airports in the coming months.”

However, the world’s leading private airport operator which handles 65 airports in 12 countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas, said that the pace of recovery remains unclear.

While analyzing the passenger traffic last year and quarter, it said: “In Cambodia, traffic remained affected by the low number of flights to and from China.”

However, there are positive signs about air travel from other countries.

“Certain international connections such as Singapore (down by 15%) and Thailand (down by 28%) showed significant growth over the quarter,” the statement pointed out.

Looking at the prospects of its airports in the Kingdom in 2023, Norinda Khek, Communication & PR Director, Cambodia Airports, told Khmer Times: “We look forward to the return of more Chinese airlines and, for those already operating flights, to the increase of frequencies.”

He said the Chinese market is vital for its three international airports and a meaningful recovery.

Khek also hoped regular flights between Kunming and Sihanoukville from January 20 would attract more travellers.

“In this view, we rejoice at the restart of regular flights between Kunming and Sihanoukville,” he said.

Kunming-based Ruili Airlines will operate flights between Kunming and Sihanoukville.

Tourism Minister Thong Khon said last week that China’s optimization of its pandemic control policies would give new momentum to tourism growth in Cambodia and the rest of the world.

“After China’s reopening on January 8, we hope that Cambodia will attract at least one million Chinese tourists in 2023,” he said. Cambodia received 2.36 million Chinese tourists in 2019, generating about $1.8 billion in revenue.

Meanwhile, the three international airports operated by VINCI in Cambodia – Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville – received a total of 2.38 million passengers in FY2022, which is an 8.8 times growth from the previous year. However, compared with the pre-pandemic period of 2019, the figure is down 80 percent, the statement said.

While Phnom Penh airport received 1.97 million passengers last year, Siem Reap attracted 372,000 and Sihanoukville 39,000 travellers.

In the fourth quarter, the three airports attracted 974,000 passengers, with Phnom Penh receiving 749,000, Siem Reap (212,000) and Sihanoukville (13,000).

Meanwhile, airports in the VINCI network welcomed almost 50 million (over 56 million with OMA airports) passengers in the fourth quarter, which is almost 17 million (or 18 million with OMA) more than in 2021. The figure is down 17 percent from the same period in 2019.

The airport commercial movement in three Cambodian airports rose by 2.6 times when compared with the 2021 figure, but is down 75 percent as compared to the data in 2019.

In the fourth quarter, airport commercial movement rose three times from 2021, but showed a decline of 64 percent when compared with 2019.

Over 186 million (209 million with OMA) passengers used its airports over the whole year, which is twice the traffic of 2021. The number of passengers was down 28% when compared with 2019.

It said passenger traffic continued to grow in the fourth quarter, confirming resilience despite the particularly challenging economic outlook in Europe.

“Outside of Asia, traffic was almost back to pre-crisis levels in December (down by just nine percent) and the recovery of international traffic had caught up with that of domestic traffic, a marker of the gradual return to normality,” it said.

Airports across Portugal, Belgrade and Serbia illustrated this growth, exceeding their pre-crisis traffic levels since October, it added.

VINCI said the passenger traffic was held up in Europe, despite an uncertain economic and geopolitical context. Traffic was particularly robust in Portugal, with connections to France, Spain and the UK enabled by the significant development of low-cost airlines.