A new initiative designed to revive Cambodia’s tourism industry, was officially launched virtually by the Ministry of Tourism on January 27. The “Cambodia: Safe and Green Tourism Destination” campaign came after much of the country’s tourism was suppressed due to Covid-19 restrictions and safety concerns.
During the virtual launch, Minister of Tourism, Thong Khon, encouraged municipal and provincial administrations for creative ideas in attracting international visitors, including through ASEAN channels. Promoting that the country is open to fully-vaccinated visitors without being subjected to quarantine, he also advised that every business that caters to visitors in implementing safety measures and standard operating procedures on COVID-19 prevention.
According to the Tourism Ministry, Cambodia attracted up to 6.61 million in international tourism in 2019 and generated a gross revenue of 4.92 billion USD. During the pandemic, the number of foreign visitors dropped down to 87 percent during the Jan.-Nov period in 2021, from the same period in 2020.
The Ministry of Tourism reported that a total of 344,547 tourists — of which included 334,859 domestic visitors and 9,688 foreigners, travelled to the tourist destinations of Phnom Penh, Preah Sihanouk, Battambang, Kampot, Koh Kong, Pursat, Mondulkiri and Siem Reap
during the first weekend of February.
Currently, Cambodia has administered at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to 14.35 million people, or 89.7 percent of its 16 million population, of which, 87 percent are fully vaccinated with two shots. The rate of vaccination will continue to increase as vaccinations become more available in the outer provinces.
Siem Reap’s Rejuvenation and Demand for Green Space
Already, several airlines have been increasing international flights. After a 11 month hiatus, the Siem Reap airport welcomed its first international travellers from Singapore Airlines on December 17, 2021.
Craig Dodge, an advocate and director of sales and marketing of the popular Phare Cambodian Circus in Siem Reap and Steve Lidgey, who runs a small boutique travel agency called Travel Asia A La Carte, have been anticipating the return of international tourism. Both men were there to greet the first international travellers at their arrival at the airport.
“It was a very emotional moment for both Siem Reap residents and also the visiting travellers when Singapore Airlines resumed their flights to Temple Town,” Lidgey explained. “A few tears of joy were shed at the thought of businesses resuming their livelihoods.”
Lidgey noted with a bittersweet smile on how many tourists enjoyed seeing Angkor Wat without the heavy crowds that usually were there in previous years. “Prior to the pandemic, we saw healthy tourist numbers increasing year on year,” Lidgey noted. “However, just prior to covid, there was a drop in passengers from the western markets. This was due to a focus on the Chinese market — and photos of busy temples were a little off-putting for western travellers who wanted to avoid mass tourism.”
Although the covid pandemic has been ravaging the tourism industry worldwide, Lidgey felt that Siem Reap has been hit especially hard due to the city’s heavy dependency on tourism. He added that Siem Reap businesses will still have difficulties resuming commerce after receiving little to no income for two years even after Cambodia has reopened itself to tourism. As Lidgey prepares himself to say goodbye to some wonderful businesses closing, he is still hopeful towards the new opportunities and revitalisation of Siem Reap.
“Siem Reap does need to change from being so heavily focused on tourism — the pandemic has made that very clear,” Lidgey explained. “Phnom Penh has kept going, but time has stood still in Siem Reap. The government has plans to make Siem Reap into a ‘Smart City’ so that would be beneficial to all.”
Over the past two years, Siem Reap has gone under major road construction in efforts to modernize the city and make travelling more convenient. Many local visitors from Phnom Penh or other regions in Cambodia, have enjoyed the changes to the city, especially the walking and bicycle paths that have been highlighted during events like the Angkor Marathon.
“From personal experience of running a marathon(around the Angkor Temple Complex), I can really say the location is like no other — and a spectacular setting for a race,” Lidgey stated. Already there is a demand for pavement, cycle lanes, and greenery as the city grows.
“It’s a great place for biking — there are bike guides and (more) infrastructure,” Dodge noted. Adding that he has noticed more cyclists and biking trails have been increasing around the temple complex as well as camping sites around Banteay Srey and Kulen Mountain.
Lidgey himself stumbled across new developments on the foothills of Kulen Mountain as he rode his bike through cassava, rubber, and cashew plantations. This is why Lidgey would like to encourage the local government to promote the local traditions and the exploration of the natural beauty of the rural areas in other parts of the province.
In addition to the Cambodian New Year, which has garnered many visitors to Siem Reap in the past, other events such as the kite festival in the Banteay Srei district and a local fair in Preah Dak, as well as the much anticipated The Angkor Wildlife & Aquarium, are what Lidgey would like to see become part the attractions for domestic and international tourists.
Written by Sotheavy Nou