Cambodia recently opened a new international airport near the famed Angkor Wat temple complex in Siem Reap, a move that is expected to significantly boost tourism in the country. The $900 million Angkor International Airport is Cambodia’s largest and most modern airport, built to handle up to 10 million passengers per year.
Massive New Infrastructure to Handle Tourist Growth
With its opening on 12 October 2023, the Angkor International Airport has the capacity to welcome huge numbers of visitors to Siem Reap and northern Cambodia. The new airport has a 4,000 meter runway that can accommodate large long-haul aircraft. Its 82,000 square meter terminal building has 12 gates and can handle up to 5 million passengers per year in the first phase, expanding to 10 million/year in future phases.
Other facilities include 22 immigration counters, 12 luggage carousels, and parking for 600 cars and 32 buses. The massive infrastructure provides plenty of room to meet growing demand. In 2022, Cambodia received nearly 2 million foreign tourists, but that number is expected to rise rapidly.
Sinn Chanserey Vutha, the spokesman for Cambodia Airports, stated: “The new airport will help support Cambodia’s tourism growth as well as provide a gateway for international tourists to the world heritage sites at Angkor.”
Strategic Location Just 10km from Angkor Wat
What makes the new airport ideal is its proximity to the 12th century Angkor Wat complex, located just 10km away. The ease of reaching Angkor Wat and other temple sites will be a major draw. Previously, visitors would land at Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport 7km from the city center, then face a 45 minute drive to reach the archeological park.
The new airport’s location allows visitors to skip the long ground transfer, getting them to the iconic temples faster. Its opening will likely increase visits to Angkor Wat in particular, Cambodia’s top tourist destination. In 2022, there were 2.2 million visits to the historical site.
Targeting Visitors from Asia and Beyond
Cambodia is expecting a significant rise in tourists from neighboring Asian countries and worldwide with the new gateway. China has already been the largest source of foreign tourists for Cambodia in recent years. In 2022, China accounted for 17% of foreign arrivals. The expanded airport capacities will allow more direct flights from Chinese cities.
There are also plans to attract faraway markets like the United States, Canada, and Europe. The long haul options could make Cambodia more appealing for American and European travelers seeking cultural destinations in Southeast Asia.
Airline Partnerships Growing
A number of airlines have already established operations at Angkor International Airport, with more partnerships in the works. China Southern Airlines, Air China, and Xiamen Airlines now offer direct flights between Siem Reap and major Chinese cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen.
Cambodia Angkor Air has relocated its hub from Phnom Penh to the new airport. And in November 2023, Qatar Airways will launch the first direct flights between Doha and Siem Reap. Further airline links are planned to bring more international routes to the airport.
From Singapore to Siem Reap in Just 2 Hours
One highly anticipated new route is a proposed direct flight between Singapore and Siem Reap by Singapore Airlines. What is currently a 3.5+ hour trip with a layover in Phnom Penh or Bangkok could be reduced to a quick 2 hour nonstop flight. The ease and speed of traveling from Singapore could make Cambodia a popular side trip for those already visiting the city-state.
Mr Vutha remarked: “Having Singapore Airlines operate nonstop flights between Siem Reap and Singapore will be a total game-changer for our tourism industry.”
Goal to Diversify Beyond Angkor Wat
Cambodian officials have expressed that improving access through the new airport will help achieve an important goal – diversifying destinations beyond just Angkor Wat. The country hopes to entice travelers to also visit its beaches, ecotourism parks, and other cultural sites.
For example, the coastal city of Kep and nearby islands have tremendous potential as beach destinations. The government intends to develop routes between Siem Reap and these coastal areas to encourage add-on trips.
Concerns Around Environmental and Cultural Impact
However, some have raised concerns about the environmental and cultural impact of a large influx of tourists. Angkor Wat in particular has already seen challenges with overcrowding and damage. With the airport expecting to deliver even more tourists to the site, preservation efforts may struggle to keep up.
There are worries about pressure on local infrastructures like energy, water, and waste systems. Cambodia will need to balance boosting tourism with sustainably managing its cultural landmarks and natural resources. But handled properly, the economic benefits of expanded tourism could positively impact many people.
The opening of Angkor International Airport ushers in an exciting new era for tourism in Cambodia. With its capacity to handle huge visitor volumes, it will shape the country’s future as a top global cultural destination. The growth opportunities are massive, but time will tell how Cambodia manages the potential risks and changes involved. One thing is certain – that iconic view of Angkor Wat just got closer than ever for travelers from around the world.