As Q4 2021 approaches, there has been increasing speculation in the Cambodian media and online that international inbound tourism to Cambodia may re-open before the end of 2021. We look at what has been suggested to date.
In the first week of September 2021, a flurry of speculation has heightened the expectations of some sort of international tourism to resume in the Kingdom.
Cambodia closed its borders to tourists in April 2020 in an attempt to control the spread of COVID-19.
The period from November-February has traditionally been the peak tourism season, mainly due to the favourable cooler weather. However, there are still many hurdles to overcome to allow international tourism to the Kingdom to resume, from procedures, visas, and flights.
Is the Tourism Industry Ready?
Much has been made of the news in September 2021 that Phnom Penh was on track to become the most vaccinated city in Southeast Asia.
On September 8, 2021, the Ministry of Tourism released a Telegram bot and invited the tourism industry to register employees who have been vaccinated. The MoT told the Phnom Penh Post that it was intended to manage the data of all legally registered businesses in the tourism sector.
Sar Sarin, Cambodia Association of Travel Agent’s secretary-general said that the bot makes it easier to manage [data], and ascertain the number of businesses and people working in the sector. This is intended to help the industry better prepare for the reopening of tourism.
The MoT has also introduced a set of minimum standard operating procedures (SOP) for four major classes of tourism businesses.
- Service providers
- Tourist eateries
- Tourist resorts
- Eco- and community-based tourism operators
The MoT has also waived the fines for late renewals of licenses and has not charged for the renewal of 2021 tourism-related business licenses.
In May 2021, information detailing Cambodia’s tourism capacity levels were released and in 2020 Cambodia, could offer a total of 15,738 hotels, guesthouses, and restaurants that provide accommodation. Combined, they offered 265,477 rooms and directly employed 80,139 staff.
We have outlined a number of reasons to be excited by the upcoming year.
Quarantine On Arrival
The two biggest practical obstacles to re-opening international tourism are issuing visas and removing the current quarantine on arrival which carry hefty financial costs.
Although some limited health and safety have been assured by implementing these measures, it’s a massive deterrent to international visitors, and the hotels which have benefited from the $1,500-2,000 enforced stays won’t be happy to see the fees end.
Cambodia will need to have a plan to drop the 14-day quarantine policy for fully vaccinated tourists, and any evidence of COVID tests (probably 72-hours prior to travel) with some other testing is logical and already in place in many countries.
Even though the ASQ has recently been adopted, the prices are still high, but the hotels allegedly offer better facilities, food and more comfortable stays for the guests.
For many expat visa-holders and Cambodians, the on-arrival fees and two-week quarantine has simply prevented any thought of flying for the past year.
Rumours have abounded since April 2021, whether Cambodia would drop quarantine restrictions or make it more attractive to visit the Kingdom, with Q4 2021 sometimes touted as a potential target – but no official announcement has been made.
The Kingdom surpassed the 96 per cent vaccination rate on September 6 2021, which was the target for the adult population of 10 million.
In addition, 85.55 per cent of the 12-17 age group of nearly two million have been vaccinated which has also led to plans to open schools in Q4 2021.
The vaccinations have been free for all who reside in Cambodia, and a number of different vaccines have been rolled out, with 3rd booster jabs also being offered.
Cambodia Tourism 2021
Visitors to Angkor Archaeological Park were down nearly 99 per cent in the first six months of 2021, while air passengers coming through the Kingdoms’ three international airports (Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville and Siem Reap) have dropped by 92 per cent (136,680) in the first half of 2021.
The other obvious obstacle is how international visitors can reach Cambodia, and leave. There are 18 airlines flying in and out of Cambodia currently, and only 1,089 flights to Cambodia were recorded during the first six months of 2021. This is down by 89.5 per cent year-on-year.
Tourism ministry’s secretary of state and spokesman Top Sopheak said: “We hope that Cambodia will be able to reopen its door to vaccinated tourists by the end of this year after the country has achieved herd immunity.”
The whole industry is struggling despite some small peaks in domestic tourism. The “Government and Private Sector Workgroup to Recover and Promote the Tourism Industry Post-Covid-19” has been meeting since August 2021.
The “Roadmap to Restore Cambodian Tourism During and After the Covid-19 Crisis” has three phases of the draft plan and the Cambodian Economy Minister Aun Pornmoniroth was due to submit the “roadmap” to the prime minister on Sept 2nd 2021.
As one of the key economic pillars in the Kingdom, Cambodia does need the return of international tourism. Now the question remains as to when this will happen and the official roadmap to making this possible.
We advise you to keep track of official posts from the Ministries. The rumours and speculation are at a peak currently as the pandemic fatigue sets in and the general public and businesses seek optimistic news in the current climate.