Tour operators split on Cambodia’s phased reopening plan

The announcement that Cambodia will start welcoming vaccinated travellers under its sandbox scheme has received a mixed reaction from agents.

From November 30, visitors can enjoy quarantine-free travel to the coastal city of Sihanoukville, Koh Rong island and the Dara Sakor area of Koh Kong. This will be extended to Siem Reap in January as the initial stages of a phased reopening.

Cambodia’s phased reopening draws mixed trade reactions; traditional floating village on Koh Rong island pictured

On arrival, visitors must take a rapid Covid-19 test and be booked on a package for at least five days.

Virginie Kury, general manager of Asian Trails Cambodia, welcomed the move as a “positive step and way forward to opening the country”. She added: “It seems that after Thailand, Cambodia will be the second country in South-east Asia to reopen, which is great news for the country and economy.”

Sinan Thourn, CEO of B2B Cambodia, echoed the sentiment. “Now all of us can officially start to inform partners about the reopening, and DMCs and tour operators can resume their work,” he said.

However, Steve Lidgey, general manager at Travel Asia a la Carte, believes the restrictions “will only delay the start of recovery”. Said Lidgey: “There are so many countries where it’s far easier to visit. Cambodia will simply be overlooked.”

He revealed he has no plans to actively promote Cambodia under the current conditions. “If we announce to overseas partners Cambodia has reopened but explain the various restrictions, it’s likely to have a negative impact. We will wait for better news before we start pushing,” he added.

Under the scheme, international arrivals must land at Sihanoukville International Airport – a snag as international arrivals, even pre-pandemic, are limited to China. “At this stage, we are still missing flight connectivity,” said Kury. “We trust as demand increases, routes and airlines will too.”

Jacques Guichandut, managing director of All Dreams Cambodia, welcomed the move but said the phased reopening puts Cambodia in direct competition with its neighbours. He fears Cambodia has lost the opportunity to promote itself as a single destination.

“Cambodia has been seen as an extension of Vietnam and Thailand, and unfortunately, with such an opening, this will remain for many years,” noted Guichandut.

Lidgey said the Siem Reap opening shows “a little potential” for longhaul destinations. However, without a full reopening, there will be little impact.

“Until vaccinated travellers can arrive freely, there will be no large uptake,” he added. “If nothing changes, the hospitality industry will continue to struggle and see further casualties until October 2022 onwards.”

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