Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday stressed the need for Sihanoukville International Airport, one of three international airports in the country, to be upgraded so that it can welcome up to three million tourists a year.
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Speaking to about 18,000 garment workers in Kandal province’s Kandal Stung district, Mr Hun Sen said that the airport’s runway and departure and arrival terminals, among other facilities, are in need of an overhaul to meet future demand.
The premier said this year the Kingdom will be welcoming six million international tourists, adding that the government’s goal is to attract 12 million a year by 2025.
“Due to the increase in international visitors, Cambodia’s three international airports will not be able to accommodate all tourists by 2025,” Mr Hun Sen said. “New airports in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh have to be built to service 12 million visitors in 2025.”
Mr Hun Sen said that Vinci Airports, the French company that holds a majority stake in the Kingdom’s international airports, supports the idea of building new airports in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap to prepare for a projected hike in passenger traffic.
Sin Chanserey Vutha, spokesman for the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA), told Khmer Times that Vinci Airports is already working on a plan to expand the runway and upgrade other facilities at Sihanoukville’s airport.
By mid-2019, he said, the runway will have expanded to 600 metres from the current 300. Next year, the airport will be able to handle Airbus 350 and Boeing 777 and 757 aircraft.
“They are now working on the expansion and it needs time,” Mr Vutha said. “The expansion will be done step by step as the company is also studying the environmental impact of the works.”
In June, Sihanoukville International Airport’s renovated passenger terminal was officially launched. The terminal’s renovation is part of an ambitious plan by Cambodia Airports, the company that manages all international airports in the Kingdom, to revamp the airport.
According to a statement from Cambodia Airports, the renovation programme includes an expansion of the airport by as much as 80 percent, a “total revamp” of facilities (particularly the check-in area, boarding lounge and baggage claim zone), and the installation of new equipment, including a baggage handling system.
“In the future, Sihanouk International Airport will be the biggest airport in the country, as Preah Sihanouk province becomes not only a tourist destination, but also a business, investment and logistics hub,” Mr Vutha said.
Sihanoukville International Airport now handles more than 100 flights every week, Mr Vutha pointed out. On average, the airport sees 47 international and 56 domestic flights a week.
He said that a new airport is now being planned for Siem Reap province, but that progress has been slow due to a number of unspecified issues.
Norinda Khek, communications and public relations director at Cambodia Airports, said that, as a result of the government’s strategy to welcome more visitors, the international airports have indeed experienced strong traffic growth.
“We also have deployed strategies to attract more airlines. To accommodate current increases and to anticipate future growth, we continue investing massively to develop the airports infrastructure including new terminals, their extensions and renovations, the expansion of the runway system, and continuous services improvements,” he said.
Taing Sochet Krisna, director of Preah Sihanouk’s tourism department, said that the province is expected to receive about two million tourists by the end of the year, a 20 percent year-on-year increase.
“In light of the rising number of tourists, these upgrades are very much needed, particularly expanding the runway and the terminals,” he said.
According to Mr Krisna, during the first nine months of the year, the number of visitors – both local and foreign – to Preah Sihanouk province grew by 6.65 percent, totalling 1.61 million people.
Nearly 1.2 million locals visited the province from January to September, a 2.72 percent hike. The number of international tourists rose at a faster rate, increasing by 19.45 percent to reach almost 415,000 people.
From January to September, international tourist arrivals in Cambodia’s three international airports equalled 2.95 million tourists. Siem Reap welcomed 1.43 million passengers, Phnom Penh 1.39 million, and Sihanoukville 134,663 tourists.