As fast-paced urban development and sprawling mega-infrastructure projects mount on Phnom Penh’s Mekong horizon, the obvious question is, where does it go from here? Cambodia’s shift from its singular tourism magnet Siem Reap, which is the access point of the iconic Ankor Wat, is now rapidly moving southward to the nation’s capital city.
Last year, the lead indicator of passenger arrivals by air saw Phnom Penh exceed 2 million passenger arrivals, surging past Siem Reap for the first time in a decade. Research by hospitality consulting group C9 Hotelworks has also captured data showing a steady sustained growth trajectory, as passenger arrivals recorded double-digit rate growth rates from 2012 through 2018, with a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 18%.
Clearly the key catalyst of change for the city has been its proximity to the country’s leading private and public sector headquarters and strategic location for China’s ambitious BRI (Belt and Road Initiative. The BRI now spans across Cambodia and runs all the way south to the Gulf of Thailand and beyond into the South China Sea.
Citing the critical business and tourism potential of the city is C9’s newly released Phnom Penh Hotel Market Update 2020 which reports that Asia is the dominate visitor source region, representing a 79% market share. More telling is a deeper data dive that 66% of the regional traffic is from Mainland China. Ranking the top 5 geographic source markets has China at the top with 52%, followed in order by Malaysia, USA, Japan and Thailand.
Moving on to how overseas travelers are funneling into the accommodation sector, C9’s report underscores that according to latest available data there are 313 hotels with 19,337 keys and 523 guests houses in Phnom Penh. A clear sign how fast-paced growth is impacting the hospitality sector is demonstrated in the fact that there are presently fifteen new hotels in the pipeline with 7,849 keys. It should be highlighted that thirteen of the upcoming properties are internationally branded by global hotel management groups including Marriott, Hyatt, Shangri-La and ACCOR.
As for the city’s hotel sector, there are challenges ahead with a spike of newer and bigger hotels and it yet to be seen how they will penetrate the existing hotel market. C9’s Managing Director Bill Barnett reflects “the next two years will see a massive transformation in the accommodation supply as ten new branded properties are forecasted to enter supply between now and 2022. While business travelers are the core guests, the task is how to attract other segments including tourists and the MICE sector.
Phnom Penh finds itself in a similar situation as other Asian CBD gateway capital hubs like Jakarta and Yangon where hotels are defined by weekday business travelers. Manila on the other hand has been able to capitalize in the gaming sector to grow the leisure segment and provides a more balanced model in the future.”
As for what are the prospects ahead Barnett adds “Cambodia’s new economic model remains unique in the region given the confluence of the BRI, though it’s sheer location is strategic by nature. With a young emerging working class, and influence of globalization, its economic history remains further in the future, so there remains a lot of work on the table in the foreseeable future.”