Sihanoukville, coastal city in Cambodia. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

PHNOM PENH, - The number of foreign tourists visiting Cambodia in 2016 rose 5 percent to five million, bringing in about $3 billion in revenue, the prime minister said on Monday.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for more than 30 years, said he expected about 5.5 million tourists this year.

"Cambodia has clearly established itself as an attractive destination for cultural and natural tourism," Hun Sen said at an international tourism conference in Siem Reap province.

Hun Sen projected there would be seven million tourist arrivals by 2020, which should earn the country $5.5 billion and create 800,000 jobs.

Despite its beaches and Angkor temples, Cambodia long had a reputation for war, genocide and violent political instability.

But it has been become a favourite with backpackers and budget travellers over the past decade or so and has more recently begun to establish itself as a luxury destination.

Foreign tourist arrivals rose 11.9 percent in the first quarter of 2017, according to figures from the Tourism Ministry, with a total of 1.5 million visitors from January to March.

Chinese tourists accounted for the biggest group of visitors in the first quarter, data showed.

Kong Sopheareak, director of the Tourism Ministry's statistics department, told Reuters that good ties between Phnom Penh and Beijing had contributed to an increase in Chinese arrivals.

"There are more direct flights now and Chinese tourists also seek investment opportunities when they visit," he added. (Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Robert Birsel)

Source: Reuters