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Locals struck by travel bug sustain tourism industry

Husain Haider / Khmer Times Share:
Using the Camboticket app. With neighbouring countries having imposed separate measures for international travel, Cambodia’s tourism industry is relying on locals to save the Kingdom’s once-bustling tourism industry. KT/Sokunthea Chor

Camboticket – the Kingdom’s largest online booking portal– is in many ways a barometer of the tourism industry.

The firm saw a steep 97.5 percent drop in bookings in April 2020 as the government announced a ban on cross-provincial travel and the postponement of Khmer New Year festivities according to Camboticket founder Shivam Tripathi.

Camboticket entered the market in 2014 and soon found its niche among foreign travellers. However, it is currently sustaining daily operations because of locals adopting the bus ticket-booking platform.

“Cambodia has a mixed market. One segment is international travellers and the expat community and the second is the local community. Early on, most of our bookings were made by international travellers and they helped us cement our position in the market. However, we started noticing mass adoption among Cambodians around 2018,” he said.

The tourism industry accounted for a staggering 32.7 percent of Cambodia’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019, contributing nearly $5 billion to the Kingdom’s economic growth.

More than 6.6 million international travellers visited Cambodia that year, leading officials to project that 2020 would see 7 million international tourists visit the Kingdom. Instead, arrivals at international airports plunged 81.3 percent because of the pandemic.

At the forefront of the economic calamity that has blighted the tourism industry is Siem Reap. The Angkor Archaeological Park received a little more than 400,000 visitors in 2020, down from 2.2 million in 2019.

“With the drop in demand we noticed that supply has shrunk by 60 to 70 percent as many enterprises have shut down indefinitely, while the ones still operating have cut the number of trips they are making daily,” said Tripathi.

Invariably, bus companies and, by proxy, ticketing portals such as Camboticket, also saw drastic declines in revenue. Tripathi noted that the bulk of visitors to the park were international tourists with domestic travellers preferring coastal areas as holiday getaways, a thought that was echoed by Larryta bus and car booking agency’s General Manager Sambath Moeun.

Larryta saw a total sales decline of  21 percent in 2020 with domestic passengers accounting for some 94 percent of their customers, according to Moeun.

The bus company has adapted to the situation by reducing travel frequency to Siem Reap and increasing routes to the coastal provinces of Kep and Kampot.

“These destinations are much more attractive for locals as they allow them a different experience each time, whereas there are only so many times locals are willing to go to Angkor Wat,” Moeun said.

A critical advantage to Larryta’s survival is its early adoption of technology. The company was among the first to adopt e-ticketing platforms. Moeun shared that his company digitally adapts its schedule twice daily to ensure buses are not running at a loss.

According to Moeun, Larryta had enough capital to cover at least another 12 months if the current trend continues, noting the company had an excess of replacement parts for his fleet of 72 vehicles. He says  its history as one of the first local bus companies is key to the organisation’s success.

Tripathi noted that despite the staggering decline in passengers, his company has experienced a slight uptick in passenger bookings and “roughly broke even in December”, despite experiencing a 75 percent decline in travellers.

“As a silver lining to the situation, we are diversifying and focusing more intensely on maturing the local market and bringing them onboard to our platform. To adapt, we are focusing more on the needs of domestic travellers and at the same time diversifying our revenue streams,” he said.

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