How has Cambodia’s tourism industry changed in recent years?
In terms of positive change, it has seen significant improvements in airport facilities, visa processing and hotel quality. The industry has also made significant strides when it comes to increasing its service standards, which are enhanced by the strong English language skills of Cambodian workers relative to their Asian counterparts.
Significant numbers of Western tourists continue to visit Cambodia, but the tourism industry’s recent growth has mainly come from China. India is also a promising market.
What are some of the main challenges the tourism industry currently faces in Cambodia?
Muddled collaboration efforts between the government and private sector have led to some markets having an oversupply of middle- and lower-tier accommodation, which is causing room rates to drop significantly in these markets.
Finding skilled labour is another major issue, especially for high-end, luxury brands entering the market. The limited experience of most hotel workers means that they often struggle to meet the expectations of luxury travellers, who demand close attention to detail. However, this also means that the potential rewards are great for Cambodians who are able to upskill.
What must the private and public sectors do to overcome these challenges?
Unless significant effort is put into improving cooperation between the public and private sectors, Cambodia, particularly Siem Reap, risks becoming another Bali, where unchecked development has meant the tourist destination has lost what made it special in the first place.
When it comes to approving new hotel builds, Cambodia must follow a supply-and-demand model. Too many rooms and not enough tourists to fill them is creating a race to the bottom on rates. The build-it-and-they-will-come attitude cannot persist. It’s greatly increasing financial hardship, causing many owners to close down and putting people out of work as a result.
With respect to the skills shortage, hospitality training schools and tertiary education providers must also work closely with hotels to ensure that their courses equip students with the necessary skills to build successful careers in the tourism industry. There also needs to be an attitudinal shift towards people seeing hospitality as a legitimate, long-term career choice.
What trends do you envisage sweeping across the industry in 2018 and beyond?
The diversification of the country’s tourism products through the development of coastal and regional destinations will continue. It’s a good strategy that will lead to a more even distribution of the benefits of tourism.
Businesses focused on wellness, spirituality and high-spending experiential luxury will also do well in the coming months, as will those that cater to the growing demand for experiences that encourage tourists to act as responsible travellers and contribute something to the local community.
This article was first published in Globe Media Asia’s Focus Cambodia 2018 magazine.