Cambodian tourism players signal readiness to reopen borders

“We are ready” is the message from Cambodia’s tourism players during an urgent call for a clear roadmap to reopening as they face another high season with no business.

At a press conference hosted by Cambodia Airports, CEO Alain Brun said: “Today, the travel industry is ready to welcome tourists and passengers… Today, we are desperate as the pandemic has had a huge impact on activity.”

Phnom Penh is the most vaccinated capital in the world; Royal Palace in Phnom Penh pictured

Across the country’s three international airports, business has plummeted to three per cent of what it was in 2019. In spite of this, all airports have remained open throughout the pandemic.

Brun added Cambodia has the chance to capitalise on its vaccination success. It currently sits in the world’s top 20 most vaccinated countries. Phnom Penh holds the title of the most vaccinated capital.

“Thanks to the amazing work of the government, travel in Cambodia is safe and we are ready (for reopening),” said Brun. “The travel industry has been actively working on SOPs for months. We were the first sector to be hit by Covid-19 and we were the first to design and implement health and safety measures.”

Last week, prime minister Hun Sen announced the urgency for borders to reopen to tourists, and recommended reducing quarantine from 14 days to seven. However, no official announcement has been made.

Support from the nation’s premier has been welcomed as a first step to recovery, however, the industry is lobbying for zero quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers.

Nick Ray, a consultant for CamDMC, said: “Quarantine and tourism don’t co-exist. Vaccinated tourists have choice now. They can go and see the pyramids at Egypt with no quarantine or Costa Rica.”

Pre-pandemic, the average length of stay in Cambodia was 4.5 days as an add-on destination to neighbours. Sivlin Chhay, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, said there is a “unique opportunity” for Cambodia to position itself as a standalone.

Chhay added members have drawn up packages that extend to more than 10 days and showcase Cambodia beyond Angkor Wat.

During the prime minister’s speech, he also mooted the idea of a free quarantine, whereby visitors’ movements are not restricted to their hotel room.

Ray noted the tourism industry can play a key role in facilitating safe travel for visitors. He said: “We have their itineraries. We know which hotels they’re staying at, and the mobile number of their tour guide and driver. This can be very low-risk when travelling with a licensed agent or operator.”

However, he said now is the time to lay out a clear vision. “If we don’t open, we miss another six months to a year of business. Do we want to be here talking about 2.5 years of no tourists?”

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