A less known fact though is that domestic tourism accounts for nearly twice the number of inbound tourists yearly. In 2019, a United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) report cited there being 11.2 million domestic visitor trips in the Kingdom, nearly twice the 6.2 million inbound visitor trips registered.
And as sharp declines in international tourism continue worldwide, experts and stakeholders are looking to domestic tourism when talking about paths to sector recovery.
A report by the UNWTO said that with travellers now considering shorter trips and destinations closer to home, countries with higher shares of domestic tourism are likely to recover earlier and faster.
“Domestic tourism can be decisive in times of crisis, as it has proven its resilience [over] several adverse occasions. The current crisis offers an opportunity for countries to re-evaluate domestic tourism and implement policies that encourage domestic travel. Although international tourism often receives more attention because of its capacity to generate valuable export revenues, domestic tourism represents a much larger share of travellers and spending in many countries.
Indeed, the report found that domestic tourism globally was six times larger than its international counterpart, and in OEDC countries, it accounted for 75 percent of total tourist expenditures.
The International Social Tourism Organisation (ISTO) said that domestic tourism is a real solution for the sector because relying solely on international tourist arrivals is much riskier and domestic tourism [actually] provides wider benefits.
“At the quantitative level, we know that domestic tourism is much more important because of the number of travellers it generates, [the associated spending of those travellers] and [given] the average growth in domestic tourism as compared to international tourism,” the report said.
“But the most important [benefit] is certainly linked to qualitative aspects. [Domestic] visitors have a better knowledge of the socio-cultural environment and therefore [also have] a greater demand for quality services and products and [will] look for a wider variety of destinations and activities. This reduces congestion and the offer of products and services [available to them] must be very varied to meet this demand. And [because] destinations are closer together, land transport is more widely used, [and] the cost of travel is lower, [which] allows more people to access this form of tourism.”
Therefore, the social composition of tourists is much broader and that diversity stimulates different types of demands, the report added.
“Domestic tourism is less geographically concentrated and better distributed over a national territory. Ultimately, the daily expenditure is lower than international tourism but the volume is greater. The effect of distributing tourist revenues provides for real regional development and economic growth of communities, [allowing] domestic tourism to contribute to innovation in the development of new destinations and new products,” it said.
ISTO added that for all these reasons, domestic tourism should be fully part of a national or regional tourism policy with a medium and long-term vision going beyond any short-term crisis. Because the environmental, economic and social challenges are very important, this approach can contribute to better tourism.
A report by the World Bank agreed, saying diversification of tourism in Cambodia was necessary to ensure sector resilience.
“While Angkor Wat in Siem Reap has been the main attraction to Cambodia, statistics show that growth in arrivals to Angkor sites is slowing. Tourists are instead increasingly choosing to visit Cambodia’s coastal areas or neighbouring countries, especially Vietnam, leading Chinese and South Korean tourists away from Siem Reap.
“Trends of increased visitors to ecotourism sites in Cambodia indicate that ecotourism is a product that could be further developed and the Cambodian government wants to capitalise on this. Developing tourism can also create much needed revenues to help manage Cambodia’s extensive protected-area (PA) network and maintain the important economic services provided by forests in the PA’s,” it added.
The World Bank’s advisory report on Enabling Ecotourism Development in Cambodia, a report which has been developed to support the Royal Government of Cambodia in the sustainable development of ecotourism, focuses on two key points.
Firstly, it explains the importance of investing and diversifying the country’s tourism as part of the WB’s broader strategy for sustainable management of the country’s natural capital and strengthening its links to the economy.
The second essential investment focus [needed] is in eco-tourism, to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on the economy.
“As more people become unemployed because of the fallout of COVID-19, they are more likely to turn to illegal activities to supplement incomes, such as illegal wildlife trafficking and logging and clearing forests for agriculture. The promotion of ecotourism development in Cambodia is, therefore, an essential element in Cambodia’s post-COVID-19 recovery strategy. It is also an essential ingredient that can pave the way towards the building back of a more resilient economy, which in turn can boost sustainable livelihoods and rural job creation for the Cambodian people,” it added.
Chhay Sivlin, President of the Cambodia Tourism Association, said there has definitely been a noticeable increase in domestic tourism which is promising for the post-pandemic recovery.
“Domestic tourism will act as a driving force to jumpstart the tourism industry in Cambodia. In fact, we had already seen how domestic tourists helped tourism businesses maintain their stances in the industry despite the tremendous drop in international tourists. Not to mention, there were a number of new boutique resorts opening across the Kingdom to cater to the local tourists’ demands. Domestic tourism also helped boost the livelihood of local communities in mountainous areas where hiking and camping have become quite a popular activity for many local tourists,” she said.
“During this pandemic, domestic tourism offers an eye opener to many tourism businesses that local tourists are actually the fundamental customers in the country as it is easier to meet their expectations. Additionally, domestic tourists are always keen on trying new things, whether it is eco-tourism, luxurious weekend getaways at the beach and so on,” she added. As reported by Khmer Times last month, the Ministry of Environment said that ecotourism has generated some $25.21 million in revenue over the first nine months of 2020, a marked increase from the two previous years, despite the pandemic.