The inaugural Cambodia Travel Mart (CTM) was organised in Siem Reap last 17 until 19 November 2017 at Sokha Siem Reap Resort & Convention Centre (www.sokhahotels. com/siemreap/), involving 320 exhibitor delegates from 13 countries, 150 buyers from 31 countries, and 20 international media representatives, including a significant number of international travel and tourism industry affiliates. The three largest booths during CTM 2017 were South Korea, Nagaworld and Cambodia Angkor Airlines.
CTM is intended to be a large-scale annual business-to-business (B2B) travel event where local and international buyers, suppliers, trade professionals and media meet and exchange latest tourism industry developments and ideas not only pertaining to destinations and travel trends in Cambodia but also the rest of Asia and the world over. By doing so, it seeks to become the platform where travel and tourism industry regional players can advance their respective businesses and grow their networks.
This major travel and tourism event also provides the Cambodian tourism industry a foothold to further enhance its appeal as an international leisure and MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions, and expositions) destination, providing more reasons for travellers, especially international tourism industry players, to travel to Cambodia.
Siem Reap was selected as the destination for CTM to debut due to accessibility and presence of renowned heritage sites such as the iconic Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bayon, and Ta Phrom, besides other attractions like Siem Reap with its slew of tourism offerings and the expansive Tonle Sap Lake.
During the CTM 2017, the buyers and media, including tourism industry affiliates were feted at a resplendent Gala Dinner organised by Borei Angkor Resort & Spa that showcased outstanding traditional Khmer performances on the grounds of the breathtaking Bayon temple, excellently reliving the glories of the ancient Khmer empire. The buyers and media were also taken to briefly experience reputable Siem Reap hotels such as Sokha Angkor Resort (www.sokhahotels.com/angkor/) and Angkor Palace Resort & Spa (www.angkorpalaceresort.com/), including the highly acclaimed and atmospheric Malis Restaurant Siem Reap (www.malis-restaurant.com/siemreap/). Cambodia’s Ministry of Tourism collaborates with Phnom Penh-based Slickbooth Event Management Company and international travel and tourism publisher and event organiser TTG Asia Media in staging CTM 2017.
Cambodia targets 7 million tourist arrivals by 2020, compared to the target of 5.5 million arrivals in 2017. The country as a destination is relatively safe and becoming more popular mainly through word-of-mouth. Though Cambodia benefits from the growth of tourism, it is not a mass tourism destination because its major attractions (heritage, history and culture) are not for everybody.
In terms of tourism, Cambodia is divided into four main zones: Angkor World Heritage Site and Siem Reap; Phnom Penh and surroundings; destinations in Cambodian Bay (also called the Riviera) such as Sihanoukville, Kep and Kampot; and ecotourism and community-based tourism such as Battambang.
“To encourage travellers to explore beyond the ancient temples and more of Cambodia, the country’s tourism industry has begun opening up newer areas. The government decides to further tap Cambodia’s tourism potential by recommending to travellers that they should travel beyond Siem Reap and head to places like Kampot and Battambang,” said Ministry of Tourism Cambodia Deputy Director General Seila Hul. Cambodia is also keen in promoting shopping as one of its tourism offerings, especially for Asian travellers.
The Cambodian coastal area, dubbed the Riviera, has been earmarked as the country’s up-and-coming tourism destination. To further boost the area, Cambodia has established its third largest airport in Sihanoukville, which receives domestic flights from Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, including international flights from Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Macau, Palau, Kunming, Chengdu, Wuhan, Wuxi, Tianjin and Seoul-Incheon. Places like Kep and Kampot located within the coastal area have begun attracting tourists due to better international access.
Before the era of Khmer Rouge, Kep was the playground of the royals and the rich in the 1950s and 1960s, hence the presence of many modernist and colonial style villas that are now mostly derelict. Several of these villas were in fact designed by Cambodia’s much celebrated architect Van Mollivan who was inspired by the French modernist architect Le Corbusier’s cutting edge designs. As a matter of fact, the late King Sihanouk also had a villa in Kep. These days, Kep remains raw yet popular due to Kep National Park, beaches, and crabs. On the same note, neighbouring Kampot also beckons travellers with its pristine Bokor National Park, waterfalls, Kampot pepper, salt fields, caves and river cruises.
As a testament to the Riviera’s potential, a deluxe intimate resort called Knai Bang Chat (www.knaibangchatt.com) situated in Kep has 18 en suite rooms housed in remodelled modernist 1950s villas. The presence of a barefoot luxury property like Knai Bang Chatt opens up Kep and Kampot to the world, which the resort claims as the real and more authentic depiction of today’s Cambodia. There is also a world-class Sailing Club nearby that trains Cambodian athletes to compete internationally in sailing, including a restaurant and lounge that face the million-dollar sunset view. Knai Bang Chatt also incorporates and promotes sustainable practices, in line with its stature as the first sustainable resort in Cambodia to be internationally certified with Gold rating by Green Growth 2050 (www.greengrowth2050.travel). The resort is also socially responsible since it is currently helping out a coastal village inhabited by 550 families called Chamka Bei in the construction of fresh water wells, irrigation, gardens, alternative agriculture, village school, pre-school day care centre, vocational training, micro-business loans and healthcare.
Another much anticipated deluxe accommodation that well heeled and sophisticated travellers should look out for is Alila Villas Koh Russey (www.alilahotels.com/kohrussey), slated to be opened by the third quarter of 2018.
Airports as international gateways
Cambodia Airports (www.cambodia-airports.aero/en) operates the country’s three main international gateways: Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. When combined, the estimated total number of passengers handled by all three airports in 2017 is eight million. Cambodia Airports shareholders are Vinci Airports (70%) and Muhibbah Engineering (30%); the former is the largest airport operator in the world.
AirAsia helps to open up Sihanoukville using flights coming in from Kuala Lumpur up to four times per week. Sihanoukville has great potential because of its proximity to attractions that hold strong international appeal such as Koh Rong, which is only 25 kilometres away. Besides, according to Cambodia Airports Marketing and Sales Director Nuno Costa, new airlines are also coming into Cambodia such as Malindo Air, Sichuan Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines and Emirates.
“We are trying to get passengers to fly direct to Cambodia. Currently, Cambodia is directly connected to major hubs in the region such as Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur,” mentioned Costa during his presentation.
Leveraging on Greater Mekong Subregion
Since Cambodia is part of the six Greater Mekong Subregion countries, the country also works closely with Mekong Tourism Coordination Office (MTCO; www.mekongtourism.org), which is tasked to raise funds from the private sector and development partners to support tourism in the Greater Mekong Subregion. It is also connecting startups by launching the Mekong Innovative Startup in Tourism (MIST) initiative, funded by the Australian government.
According to MTCO Executive Director Jens Thraenhart, the number of Asian tourists visiting the Mekong countries is growing. The cruise industry along the Mekong river is also expected to grow to four million passengers by 2020. As such, Cambodia leverages on Mekong Tourism as well as the ASEAN frameworks for wider exposure and access. It has already signed with Thailand the ‘two-kingdom-single visa’ system, allowing travellers outside ASEAN to access both countries using just a single visa. Thraenhart recognised that there is now more visa openness among the countries compared to five years ago.
MTCO also launched ‘Mekong Moments’, an Instagram-style social media collaborative platform where travellers can share their Mekong experiences under #MekongMoments that would be automatically captured on the www.mekongtourism.org/mekong-moments/ site. All these initiatives are expected to boost tourism in the Greater Mekong Subregion.
New World Heritage Site to further boost tourism
Sambor Prei Kuh – located two hours and a half drive from Siem Reap and located close to Kampong Thom – began enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 8 July 2017. On the map, it seems to be midway between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.
This two-kilometre-by-two-kilometre site was once called Isanapura and served as the capital and religious centre in the worship of Shiva for the Chenla Kingdom (predecessor to the Khmer Empire) from the 6th until the 8th Century A.D. At its height, it was estimated that around 20,000 families inhabited the area. The site is home to over 300 Hindu and Buddhist temples, also known as the place where the lion sculptures carved in the first Khmer style can be found.
The village communities surrounding the Sambor Prei Kuh temples still use them to this day, indicating that the site has continuously been significant to local culture and religion for over 1,500 years, hence a living heritage. This site is slated to be one of the upcoming must-visit sites for travellers to explore due to its significance in the Khmer history.
Despite teething issues, CTM 2017 took off successfully and put Cambodia on the global tourism front since the event affords the kingdom’s tourism industry more international exposure. Based on the strong commitment shown by the Cambodian government coupled with the kingdom’s unique and exotic offerings, CTM has the potential to become one of the most productive travel marts in the ASEAN region if not Asia. The travel fraternity looks forward to CTM 2018, which will take place in Phnom Penh from 11 until 13 October 2018.