The largest annual business-to-business (B2B) travel event in Cambodia called Cambodia Travel Mart (CTM) 2018 was held in Phnom Penh from 11 until 13 October 2018 at Diamond Island Convention & Exhibition Centre, involving 130 buyers and 22 international media representatives, including travel and tourism industry affiliates. The participating exhibitors during this event opened a total of 170 booths, registering 30% increase compared to the previous year.

Now in its second edition, CTM is progressing towards realising its vision in becoming a veritable platform where travel and tourism industry regional players can advance their respective businesses and grow their network. The event serves as a foothold for Cambodia to further enhance its position as a credible leisure and MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions, and expositions) destination within the ASEAN region, while aiming to maintain and even increase the number of tourist arrivals into Cambodia.

Cambodia’s Ministry of Tourism collaborated with Phnom Penh-based Slickbooth Event Management Company and international travel and tourism publisher and event organiser TTG Asia Media in staging CTM 2018.

More tourists are flocking to Cambodia

CTM 2018

Cambodia’s Minister of Tourism H.E. Dr. Thong Khon welcoming the attendees during the opening of CTM 2018.

Cambodia places tourism as a priority sector because it contributes to the nation’s socio-economic development, job creation, poverty alleviation and livelihood improvement. For the first eight months of 2018, Cambodia recorded 3.9 million tourist arrivals.

During the opening ceremony of CTM 2018, Cambodia’s Minister of Tourism H.E. Dr. Thong Khon announced that Cambodia is well on its way to achieve 6.2 million tourist arrivals by the end of 2018, which is a 12% increase from the previous year. At the current rate, Cambodia is confident in hitting the 7 million mark by 2020. Back in 2017, Cambodia received a total of 5.6 million tourist arrivals, equivalent to USD3.6 billion of tourism receipts and employed over 600,000 people.

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 ensure that prosperity from tourism is distributed throughout the country more equitably, Cambodia encourages travellers to go beyond Phnom Penh and Siem Reap to places like Kep and Kampot to discover more of the country.

Since Cambodia emphasises more on quality rather than quantity when it comes to tourist arrivals, the Kingdom targets higher quality tourists because they tend to spend more and stay longer. To ensure that higher quality tourists keep returning to Cambodia, the government works closely with the industry to enhance service quality and place controls to reduce negative impact from overtourism and maintain sustainability, particularly in Angkor, which is Cambodia’s main tourism draw and source of national pride.

“Cambodia is now a haven for retirees. We can see the steady increase of senior citizens from Europe who settle in Cambodia over the years,” stated Ministry of Tourism Cambodia’s Director of Marketing & Promotion Department Mr Thoura Lor during his presentation. Apart from this, many expats who are based in Asia are also finding it easy to come to Cambodia because they can conveniently utilise the visa-on-arrival and e-visa facilities.

In line with Cambodia’s efforts to attract more tourists by targeting up-and-coming markets like South Asia and Indonesia, Cambodia also targets the Middle East tourists by attending region-specific events such as the Arabian Travel Mart and encouraging them to fly to the Kingdom via hubs in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Bangkok. Cambodia Airports is in the midst of getting new airlines like Emirates and Qatar Airways to fly directly to Cambodia.

However, Cambodia’s Ministry of Tourism Deputy Director General Seila Hul confessed that Cambodia still has more to do to attract the lucrative Middle Eastern market, including Muslims worldwide. As a start, the government has begun providing prayer rooms that Muslims can use at Phnom Penh International Airport and Siem Reap International Airport. Certain accommodations and hotels of international repute like NagaWorld also offer Muslim-friendly (pork-free, lard-free and alcohol-free) culinary options and discreet indication of the direction towards Mecca in the guest rooms. Several halal restaurants can be found in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap too. Muslim travellers could even venture out to the local Muslim neighbourhoods in both cities to learn about the residents’ way of life and pray at their respective neighbourhood mosques.

Cambodia welcomes investors and its tourism industry has been receiving significant increase in investments, mostly in the form of hotels or accommodations. Besides Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, the one place where this phenomenon is strongly evident is Sihanoukville, which is bent into becoming the ‘Las Vegas of South East Asia’ as more international investors are coming in to build casinos.

Adopting technology in marketing Cambodia

Cambodia understands that the behaviour of today’s tourists is different compared to before because tourists nowadays are more digitally connected, expect instant information on products, and expect the products and services to specifically tailor to their demands.

Realising the fact technology impacts tourism and changing the industry, the Cambodian government utilises digitalisation and technology for tourism management system and promotion, for example guides are provided with unique QR codes so that guests are able to evaluate the guide’s services online. In this case, digitalisation is effectively used to maintain high tourist satisfaction because it helps to boost expectations towards tourists’ experience.

Though technology can be considered as disruptors, it also functions as an enabler because technology supports the inclusion of local community and smaller players, empowers local community on how they are promoted and efficiently manage resources. Cambodia is among the first countries in the Asian region to introduce e-visa, using technology as an enabler.

To further enhance Cambodia’s promotional and marketing reach, the Ministry of Tourism plans to rely more on digital technology as a way to make tourism more sustainable since digitalisation uses less paper. Mr Seila Hul shared that tourism promotions by the Ministry of Tourism will be done more through digital in the coming years.

As a means to promote destinations digitally, the usage of hashtags (#) is increasingly important, for example #cambodia and #phnompenh, especially when it comes to promoting landmarks. According to MTCO Executive Director Mr Jens Thraenhart, Cambodia uses hashtags as one of the approaches to create more awareness and further disperse travellers to other parts of the country beyond Phnom Penh, Sieam Reap or Sihanoukville by actively pushing hashtags like #kampot, #kep and #battambang through social media.

85% of millennials say user-generated contents (UGC) influence their buying decision. Destinations therefore need to optimise on UGC to drive their brands, for example #MekongMoments, an initiative by Mekong Tourism Coordination Office (MTCO) in the form of Instagram-style social media collaborative platform where travellers can share their Mekong experiences to lure more travellers to explore the destinations within the Greater Mekong Subregion.

Mr Jens Thraenhart further stressed on the need for tourism organisations and destination management companies to integrate the brands that they are selling with user-generated content because people are six times more likely to purchase the brands when they obtain the information from social media, giving rise to the term ‘social commerce’. A step further is ‘collaborative social commerce’, which refers to the public-private partnership to promote Cambodia – the more the private entities and tourism organisations interact and engage with members of the public to create interest towards Cambodia as a destination, the more the public will trust and become interested to visit Cambodia.

Also read: Cambodia Travel Mart 2017 Boosted Cambodia’s International Appeal

The China factor

Cambodia is the top 11th most popular destination visited by Chinese tourists. The top-most destination among the mainland Chinese is Thailand, while Malaysia ranks fifth.

Chinese travellers seek destinations that express the notions of harmonious balance in nature and possess classical Chinese cultural associations of yin such as shui (water) representing feminine energy and yang represented by shan (mountain) to denote masculine energy. Destinations intending to attract Chinese tourists need to understand how to make the association between what the destinations have to offer and the mainland Chinese psyche. In this regard, Cambodian tourist spots like those along Tatai River located near the slopes of Cardamom Mountains in south west Cambodia, bucolic Kampot and pristine Koh Rong hold large potential.

Mainland Chinese tourists choose destinations based on tourism attractions; ease of travel (how easy it is to obtain visa to the country they are visiting), similarity in language, and food (where they can get food that satisfy their palate); cost; promotional campaigns or anything that makes the destinations uniquely attractive; and security (they look into factors such as terrorism risk, public safety and security, and rescue ability).

As modern China progresses, mainland Chinese travellers are increasingly becoming more sophisticated with improved travelling habits. Their preference has now skewed towards cultural destinations, island getaways and dining experiences, including comfortable mid-range to high-end accommodations, especially when visiting exotic places like Siem Reap.

Mainland Chinese tourists also tend to believe and rely on tourist attraction rating categories or grades as measure of quality when deciding whether they would want to experience an attraction or destination – they would be more interested if the destinations or attractions have been rated or graded in some way to reflect the promised quality.

Conclusion

CTM 2018 successfully cements Cambodia’s ability to hold international MICE events on large scale, besides being the venue where industry players can obtain valuable information on matters pertaining to travel and tourism, expand their network, and find business opportunities. The travel fraternity looks forward to the following year’s CTM, which will also take place in Phnom Penh at the same venue in October 2019.

While being in Phnom Penh…

The last time Gaya Travel Magazine visited the capital city of Cambodia was back in 2008. Without doubt, Phnom Penh has significantly changed over the years. Today, Phnom Penh flourishes as the nation’s bustling political and business hub, especially when investments have been pouring in from overseas, helping to develop the city and turn it into an economic hotspot in the ASEAN region with potential to grow even further.

However, economic growth notwithstanding, Phnom Penh still has pockets that resonate with romantic colonial French allure, albeit at risk of disappearing due to development pressures. Travellers who are keen to learn about Phnom Penh’s history and heritage should follow a specially designed game in the form of treasure hunt by a leading destination management company All Dreams Cambodia. The game brings travellers to interesting local places and experiences, which they would otherwise skip or give a miss such as visiting the 94-year old National Library of Cambodia, admiring the building where the branch of Banque de l’Indochine (Bank of Indochina) used to be based but now converted into a posh restaurant, learning how to play the traditional Cambodian game of chess called ouk, and being introduced to the Black Tower that is believed to pre-date Wat Phnom; including interacting with local students from University of Cambodia’s Archaeology Department.

Tip:
Download the nifty PassApp Taxi application to book a limousine, car, rickshaw or tuk tuk and conveniently zip from one place to another throughout the city with less hassle. Prices are set in Cambodian Riel depending on distance, thus reducing the possibility of being ripped off. As a rule of thumb, KHR5,000 is equivalent to USD1.

This article is included in Gaya Travel Magazine 13.4.

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