As Cambodia Is Set to Welcome Vaccinated Tourists, Challenges Lie Ahead

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Non Koresponden

Editor

Laila Afifa

22 December 2021 20:52 WIB

More local tourists return to visit the Angkor Wat Temple as the country is gradually reopening. Photo by Phat Dane. Cambodianess

TEMPO.COSiem Reap - As Cambodia is reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic with plans to open the country for fully vaccinated travelers in the weeks to come, optimism is running high that the tourism sector will recover. But beyond all those hopes, challenges such as the lack of direct international flights and some stringent COVID-19 measures stand in the way. 

COVID-19 has hit Cambodia’s tourism hard and, for tour guides like Chan Sytha, this has been an enduring pain. After working as a guide for four years in Siem Reap Province, Sytha said that he had to change job for a while because there is no customer for him. 

After more than 20 years of the number of international arrivals constantly rising, the number of foreign arrivals dropped in 2019 due to various internal and external factors. In 2020, the province witnessed an unprecedented economic decline due to the pandemic disrupting international travel. According to data from the tourism development masterplan 2021-2035 for Siem Reap, the province received approximately 400,000 foreign visitors, which amounted to a 82 percent drop. 

And the Siem Reap administration even locked down the city of Siem Reap in September 2021 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Chan Sytha has been a guide for four years in Siem Reap Province. Photo by Phat Dane

Speaking in front of the Angkor Wat temple where he waits for tourists, Sytha said that, beside the fact that there are almost no foreigners, tourists from within the country rarely ask for guides. So the return of foreign visitors is his only hope, he said.

Photographer Chhlong Savin, whose livelihood largely depends on tourism, said that the coronavirus outbreak has scared away his customers, and the recent lockdowns of Siem Reap City has added another layer of difficulties.

Almost every business, either big or small, has been affected by COVID-19 that first emerged in December 2019. Ross Saay, general manager of Viroth’s Hotel in Siem Reap City, said that the pandemic has devastated the tourism sector in Cambodia, and particularly in Siem Reap that has been heavily relying on this sector.  

Ross Saay is the general manager of Viroth’s Hotel in Siem Reap City. Doc.: Cambodianess

“The service sector has been hit hard,” Saay noted. “Restaurants and hotels shutter their operation. Some closed down permanently while others are considering reopening. But some may stop definitely.”

During those two years of the pandemic, tourism has been the hardest hit industry in the country as there has been a drastic decline in arrivals of international visitors. According to a report of the Ministry of Tourism released in August 2021, only 102,560 foreign tourists arrived in Cambodia during the first six months of 2021, down 91.3 percent compared to the same period in 2020, which had seen the arrival of 1.18 million visitors. Among those visitors, 64,392 were from Southeast Asian countries, representing a drop of 85.4 percent compared to the same period in 2020.

During the first semester of 2021, Cambodia saw only 1,089 flights, that is, a 89.9 percent drop compared to same period one year earlier.

Chhlong Savin is a photographer at Angkor Park. Photo by Chhorn Sophat. Cambodianess



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