The upcoming ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) to be held in Sihanoukville from January 16-22 will mark a milestone for the coastal city in its journey to become a prime destination for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions or MICE tourism.
Despite the pandemic, the coastal capital of Preah Sihanouk province has already hosted two international events this year: the East Asia Seas Congress 2021 on December 1-2 and the Southeast Asian Sailing Championship from December 12-17.
Held under the theme “Charting a New Decade of HOPE (Healthy Oceans, People and Economies)”, the Congress has focused on the sustainable development of the world’s seas.
Preah Sihanouk was a fitting venue for the event with the province having joined the France-based Most Beautiful Bays in the World Club in 2011.
According to Taing Sochet Krisna, director of the Preah Sihanouk Tourism Department, the city was primed to give visitors the best experiences although more needed to be done.
“We cannot just rely on the hotels and casinos so we at the Tourism Department are committed to turning Sihanoukville into a premium MICE tourism destination to host major international trade forums,” he told local media. “While we currently have more than 10 five-star hotels, this is not enough to cater for the MICE tourism sector.”
“This is why the government and Ministry of Tourism is actively inviting investors – particularly European and American hotel brands – for needed business and conference centers and further five-star hotels that focus on MICE tourism to boost the sector,” Krisna said.
The call for American investment is well-placed as Cambodia’s exports to the United States touched US$7.2 billion in first 10 months this year, up 31 percent from the same period in 2020, according to data from the US Census Bureau. Investment in Cambodia could be considered a less risky proposition in the post-pandemic era and the country could soon be seen as an emerging market by investors.
Covering an area of 2,659 square kilometers, two-thirds of which are mountains and plateaus, Preah Sihanouk Province stretches over 32 big and small islands and a coastline of 175.81 kilometers.
Experts have suggested that investors should introduce more marine recreation and tourism activities to capitalize on the province’s pristine islands, crystal clear waters and rich sea life. This is expected to entice greater numbers of repeat visitors while agritourism is another sector that could offer stellar returns. All this would boost investments in Cambodia.
As of June 2020, about 194 projects valued at US$30 billion had been implemented in the province with an additional US$10 billion recorded for tourism and hotel ventures, according to the authorities.
In a further signal of revival, developers have restarted work on several high-rise buildings in the province that was halted because of the pandemic boding well for real-estate in Cambodia.
The total number of high-rise buildings in Preah Sihanouk Province had reached about 1,000 before the pandemic. Between 2017 and 2021, a total of 1,661 buildings were built with a total value of around US$8.4 billion. Of the total, about 620 structures are between five to 53 floors high.
Also being built in the province is Ream City, a project being undertaken by Canopy Sands Development, which is an affiliate of Prince Holding Group, one of the largest conglomerates in the Southeast Asian country.
Developed on reclaimed land, the Ream City hopes to attract US$16 billion in total investments. It is one of Cambodia’s biggest ever development projects containing both residential and commercial complexes and is part of a plan to transform the southwestern seaside city into a hub for tourism, trade and housing; in other words, a solid MICE destination. The project also aims to be a home for potentially 130,000 residents and be a huge achievement for real estate in Cambodia.
The ASEAN Tourism Forum or ATF, therefore, is Sihanoukville’s big coming out party after the pandemic aimed to entice more investments in Cambodia. The forum provides a platform to encourage collaboration between ASEAN member states and to holistically promote the region as one destination with diverse culture, cuisine and communities.
The theme “ASEAN – A community of peace and shared future” articulates Cambodia’s commitment as a key stakeholder in the region’s tourism eco-system. ATF 2022 aims to connect key stakeholders in the travel industry, which includes tourism ministers and officials, and will be attended by more than 100 sellers, 100 buyers and 50 national and international media outlets.
A key reason why the forum is going ahead and organizers are bullish about its success is Cambodia’s high vaccination rate. The country is now open to fully vaccinated visitors. It has so far managed to fully vaccinate 13.6 million or 81.6% of its own population.
The country’s private sector has played a key role and have demonstrated themselves to be dynamic and responsible stakeholders of society.
For example, Prince Group, led by businessman Neak Oknha Chen Zhi, played a pivotal role in the immunization drive in 2020 as well.
In March of that year, Chen Zhi Cambodia contributed US$3 million to the Cambodian government’s anti-pandemic efforts. That was on top of the US$3 million donated by Prince Holding Group in December last year to help the country purchase 1 million Covid-19 vaccines.
Real estate in Cambodia has largely been unaffected as a result of the sterling response by the private and public sector. It almost seems like the pandemic was a bad dream to many Cambodians (of course, it had real consequences to families that lost loved ones and they need society’s support).
Sihanoukville is starting 2022 on a better note than it did in 2021 thanks to Cambodia’s successful vaccination drive and government plans to make the coastal city a prime engine of growth for the entire country. Investment in Cambodia as a whole could be boosted in the coming years if the city plays host to the important conversations that need to take place.
Let us hope the optimism is not misplaced.