Cambodia decides to nibble at the Indian tourist market to Thailand

Cambodia’s Angkor Wat is bracing for an influx of Indian tourists in 2023.

Thailand’s post-covid tourism recovery has owed much to the Indian sub-continent. Direct flights from cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata to Bangkok and Phuket have contributed around 500,000 international arrivals in Thailand, or almost 10 percent of the total to date. Many of the Indian arrivals are single men attracted to Pattaya’s traditional hotspots and haunts, together with over 70 Indian restaurants to choose from. But there is also a lucrative market in lavish, five-star Indian weddings – with hundreds of guests flown in by charter plane – which can cost tens of millions of baht.

Now Cambodia is eyeing that market. The Indian and Cambodian governments have signed a memorandum of understanding to start direct flights between the two countries. At present, there are no direct air journeys from the sub-continent to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap and wannabe tourists must change planes at Bangkok or Singapore or Vietnam which considerably pushes up the travel costs. The Indian ambassador to Phnom Penh, Devyani Khobragade, said the star attraction would be the Angkor Wat temple ruins and various Buddhist sites.

In a separate memorandum, the Indian Authorities and Cambodia’s external affairs ministry have agreed to fund mural restoration work at Angkor Wat and at Wat Bo pagoda in Siem Reap. The murals depict the Indian cultural impact on Cambodian society over many centuries. Angkor Wat itself, which is the largest cultural ruin in the world and four times larger than Vatican City, was originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu before becoming a Buddhist temple in the 12th century.

Travel gurus are not sure how successful the new recruitment drive for Indian tourists to visit Cambodia will be. Angkor Wat has traditionally been very popular indeed with Chinese tourists who travel mostly travel in large family groups. To date, Thailand’s Indian tourists have been mostly independent or single male groups. Moreover, Cambodia displays a more conservative attitude to entertainment facilities than does Thailand. On the other hand, research by India Air Express earlier this year suggested there was a pent-up demand to visit Cambodia provided access was easier. Because of the bureaucracies involved, the first flights are unlikely to begin before mid-2023.