Ahead of the curve in Siem Reap travel



Much is written about post-COVID travel trends and what they mean for the international travel and tourism industries. Across many of the trend analyses are some common themes: travelers’ determination to be thoughtful about the impact of their travel, the desire to immerse themselves more thoroughly in local cultures, and a determination to see their dollars go into the hands of local people.

Well before the pandemic,  Siem Reaper Travel was ahead of the curve on these trends. 

Founded in 2017 and situated in the heart of Siem Reap City, the active travel company is all about unique outdoor adventures, authentic cultural immersion, and local empowerment.  The founders, Vathana Nguon, Hokmeng Pon, and Borith Rin, designed their business to offer personalized tours as a natural extension of visits to the Angkor temples, Cambodia’s premier visitor attraction. 

They wanted to help international visitors have deeper personal experiences in Cambodia – with Cambodians – on foot, by bike, on the water, and in Khmer eateries. 

Most of Siem Reaper’s guides were born and raised in Siem Reap and know the backroads and by-ways, the hidden gems of Angkor, the waterways, and the provincial mountain trails “like the back of their hand,” said Mr. Vathana, who is in charge of the company’s day-to-day operations.  

Being able to make a real connection with their customers is important to the team at Siem Reaper Travel. 

“Our guides know Cambodian history and can tell their own personal stories within that history and in the present,” said Mr. Vathana. “They create a more memorable and meaningful experience for the visitors.”

And while Siem Reaper tours are made personal by the stories and experiences of the local guides, they are also personalized down to the last detail for guests.  Team members work with them to design their experience, offering any combination of temple exploration, off-road and countryside biking, kayaking, hiking, local food experiences, and more. The tour can be for a few hours or a few days.  Tours can remain in Siem Reap province or branch out with extended forays into Battambang or even south to the coast.  And soon, the team plans to have offerings from Siem Reap to Laos and Viet Nam.

Still, the COVID “hangover” is real in Siem Reap, with travelers only slowly trickling back in. In the first quarter of 2022, just 10,300 international visitors came through the airport on the outskirts of town. That’s about a 96 percent decrease from the same time frame in 2020, according to the Siem Reap Tourism Development Master Plan. 

So tour providers must carefully define their target customers and be relentless in positioning their offerings where customers spend their online time.  And they must ensure it is easy for travelers to design individualized activities, book (and cancel), and see current reviews on third-party sites.  Direct online responses to inquiries must be prompt, friendly, and accommodating.  From their first communications, customers need to have an ease and feel a connection with the people to whom they are entrusting their holidays. 

Prior to the pandemic, when tourists swarmed every corner of Siem Reap (there were 2.2 million visitors in 2019) and tour operators had wait lists for popular activities, Siem Reaper used a traditional selection of marketing tools to reach customers. They had a website and a blog, utilized Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tools and posted on Instagram.  They ran occasional FaceBook campaigns.  And they made sure their positive TripAdvisor reviews were front and center in promotions.

They still maintain their use of this array of promotional tools but now have a larger tech team – about 15 people – working online every day to reach just the right niche audiences for their specialized activities.   

In fact, today, technology is an equal partner with the local guides and unique offerings in Siem Reaper Travel’s portfolio.  They continue to use social media strategically, including TikTok and YouTube videos in the mix. Performance data gleaned from Google Analytics helps them adjust their overall online approach. They are nimble and quick to adapt their methods to further refine marketing tactics.  

Siem Reaper Travel’s target customers tend to reside in western nations, so they established relationships with tour agencies in the United States, Europe, and Australia to add another layer of promotion for their distinctive and personalized Cambodian experiences. 

As with everyone in the Siem Reap tourism sector, the team at Siem Reaper Travel is relieved to see the back of COVID restrictions and eager to see an increase in international tourists in 2023 – while still recruiting a good share of 2022 visitors.  They are well-positioned for this: their Trip Advisor reviews place them overwhelmingly in the Excellent category.