Agents say a cleaned-up Sihanoukville still doesn’t provide enough draw to keep visitors in Cambodia.
Improvements to Cambodia’s main coastal resort of Sihanoukville are helping to increase visitors’ length of stay, but more efforts are needed for it to become a standalone destination, agents opined.
Recent years have seen huge resources ploughed into cleaning up Sihanoukville, in a bid to entice international visitors to choose the destination for a relaxing beach stay after a trip to the temples, rather than jetting off to neighbouring Thailand or Vietnam.
The progress is palpable: infrastructure in the town has improved, clean-up campaigns conducted, beaches cleared of the hordes of touters, and more upmarket products introduced.
While this has helped transform the town from backpacker haven to family-friendly paradise – latest figures show 80,589 people visited the coast in February, an 18.3 per cent year-on-year increase – agents say the destination’s potential is still unfulfilled.
Sinan Thourn, chairman of B2B Cambodia and of PATA Cambodia Chapter, said: “The first thing people talk about is Angkor Wat. There are now many new things coming up and one of our best assets is the coastal area.”
Kimhean Pich, CEO, Discover the Mekong, said the beautification of the beach has increased the length of international visitors’ stay in Cambodia, with many adding three days to relax there or, increasingly, explore the islands.
Still, it is not enough to keep people in the country, with many still seeing Cambodia as an add-on to Thailand or Vietnam.
Thourn acknowledged that more four- and five-star hotels are needed in Sihanoukville, but the main focus needs to be shifted to the sprawling outlying areas with their untouched beaches and landscapes.
Chin Chantha, manager of Sun Tours in Sihanoukville, sees the need for more international air links, as is improving access from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville. “If we can provide (easy access) and more products, then visitors have no reason to leave Cambodia.”
The latest connection is AirAsia’s four-times weekly flights from Kuala Lumpur to Sihanoukville commencing August 9.
Hopeful that Sihanoukville and the coastal region can help Cambodia become a standalone destination, Thourn remarked: “Sihanoukville will be the real rising star of Asia’s countries. The town, the province and the coast can be astounding for tourists.”