Tourism remains one of the key economic pillars of the Kingdom of Cambodia, and after two and a half years of being ravaged, there has been a rebound in the industry in 2022. However, the cancellation of the Water Festival will have its toll on some businesses, particularly in the capital of Phnom Penh.
Following the surprise cancellation last week of the iconic holiday, one of the most important on the Khmer calendar, Prime Minister Hun Sen quickly quashed rumours that the government didn’t have sufficient funds to hold the event. Rather he said the cancellation of the Water Festival (Bon Om Touk) was due to the busy schedule of organising the ASEAN Summit and fear of a COVID-19 outbreak.
The Cambodian government is due to host the leaders from across ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) from November 7-9 2022 and the ASEAN summit is scheduled for November 10-13 2022. The Water Festival was due to take place from November 7-9 2022.
It’s worrying that the government could have not planned adequately for the ASEAN Summit and Water Festival appropriately as the dates have been known well in advance, as the country edges closer to hosting the SEA Games 2023, it will surpass any logistical and organisational endeavour the country has had to undertake to date.
The stance on the fear of a COVID outbreak, although with public health in mind, also needs to be clarified as the Pchum Ben festival will still be celebrated nationally and see millions of people in the country travel domestically and regionally. At some point, a national stance on whether the pandemic is now endemic needs to be undertaken to allow for aligned strategic planning which can move the nation forward across all sectors.
The government has now cancelled the Water Festival for three years in a row, two of which were due to COVID-19 although this year the government is allowing respective provincial authorities to hold traditional boat racing in their provinces.
So it will be Phnom Penh which will see the biggest knock-on effect, especially for hotels and other forms of accommodation, as well as restaurants, transportation, and street vendors who are in need of a large influx of visitors as it is now the traditional slow tourist season.
National Holidays and Attracting Tourism & Investment 2022
Cambodia has a total of 21 public holidays in 2022 which are spread across 15 national, cultural and religious festivals – workers in the Kingdom have been unlucky that so many public holidays this year have fallen across weekends reducing the actual number of days they can utilise to plan holidays. Since 2021, public holidays that fall on a Sunday are no longer carried over to a Monday in Cambodia.
Pchum Ben will run from September 24-26 officially although a number of businesses have already indicated they will be closed for longer periods of time.
As the ASEAN region hails the inflow of investment into the region as a whole in 2021 (urging regional connectivity, as well as digitisation to promote trade and investment), Cambodia had previously reduced the number of public holidays on a bloated public holiday calendar to incentivise investment and promote productivity.
Since 2020, the King’s birthday public holiday was reduced from three to only one day, and in addition five other national and international days (Meak Bochea Day, National Day of Remembrance, Children’s Day, Paris Peace Accords, and Human Rights Day) were removed from the list of public holidays.
Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Cambodia in 2021 was flat at $3.5 billion but is still high compared with the 2015-2019 annual average of $2.8 billion, but ASEAN recorded a 42% increase in FDI inflow in the same year, so the Kingdom still has its work cut out to attract a larger slice of the regional investment pie.
For the remainder of 2022, there are no other major holidays on the calendar after Pchum Ben, which traditionally sees the capital empty out as many residents travel to the provinces.
Cambodian Ministry of Tourism is planning an event on October 3 2022 to celebrate the 42nd World Tourism Day, which it hopes will attract international attention to the Kingdom’s tourism potential but the areas such as the islands off Sihanoukville and Siem Reap will likely benefit
Cambodia is also holding its annual Sea Festival and the Most Beautiful Beach Club in the World conference from December 9-14 in Preah Sihanouk Province.
Cambodia has welcomed 998,272 international arrivals between January-August 2022, which is still a 77 per cent drop from the same period in 2019, and obviously much higher than the past two years.
The period from November-February is generally regarded as the tourism high season which is when the heavy rains subside and the nation attracts more visitors from Europe and elsewhere as they enter Winter.
It’s difficult to gauge how busy the upcoming season will be as global financial pressures continue but with a glut of new hotels still opening in Phnom Penh and with the SEA Games less than a year away, the city will need to be tested to see how it can cope with large number of visitors simultaneously.