National carrier Cambodia Angkor Air will launch its first charter flight from Japan to Siem Reap today and is considering a regular service on the route, a senior airline executive has said.
Eng Molina, general marketing manager at the airline, told Khmer Times the first direct charter flight had been scheduled in direct response to Japanese tourists.
He added that Cambodia Angkor Air is studying the market to assess demand before introducing regular flights on the route.
“Japan is a big potential market,” Mr Molina said. “We are now studying the market in detail to see how best to connect Cambodia and Japan through Cambodia Angkor Air.
“We are focussing mostly on tourists. If the charter flights are successful, we will launch regular flights in the near future. It will be up to market demand.”
Ho Vandy, secretary-general of Cambodia's National Tourism Alliance, welcomed the move, saying it will revive the number of Japanese tourists visiting Cambodia. Japanese tourists were the top visitors to Cambodia in 2003.
Mr Vandy said regular flights would also benefit foreigners visiting Japan who may wish to visit Cambodia as well, plus locals who are interested in going to Japan.
“The Japanese are high quality tourists and spend a lot on package trips,” he added.
Mey Kalyan, senior adviser to the Supreme National Economic Council, said additional direct flights from Cambodia to Japan will help enable not only tourists but businessmen to visit Cambodia.
Before Japanese airline All Nippon Airways launched a direct flight to Cambodia in September, tourists and businessmen had to transit through Vietnam, Bangkok, Hong Kong or South Korea.
More direct flights would reduce costs and increase convenience, Mr Kalyan said, adding that the success of the new routes would depend on services meeting high standards.
“Japanese tourists and businessmen are really careful about safety and the quality of the airline services,” he said.
Mr Molina admitted that the national carrier would need to compete with the Japanese airline for customers. But he said Japan is a big market, so direct flights from one operator are not enough.
“More flights will attract more passengers,” he said. “We will use A320 and A321s to carry passengers from Japan to Cambodia. The charter flight is just the start.”
Last year, Cambodia welcomed about five million international visitors, an increase of five percent on the previous year. Of these, 191,577 were Japanese.
From January to February this year, about one million international visitors came to Cambodia. A total of 40,720 Japanese people visited in that period, an increase of 14 percent, compared with the same time last year.