Cambodia's tourism industry is gearing up to roll out the red carpet for Chinese travellers after Prime Minister Hun Sen on September 17 indicated that the Kingdom could soon throw open its doors to international holidaymakers vaccinated against Covid-19 – starting with guests from China.
Cambodia Chinese Tour Guide Association (CCTGA) president Tea Kileng told The Post on September 19 that CCTGA members were raring to return to work and welcome back international visitors, especially those hailing from China.
This brings tourism employers’ gruelling nearly two-year wait to a close, he enthused, noting that a sizeable portion have been forced to look into alternative ways to earn a living.
"We are ready to welcome [Chinese] tourists to Cambodia, although we do not think there will be many at this first stage," he conceded.
He shared that virtually all CCTGA members have been vaccinated, noting that they had numbered 827 before Covid-19 struck.
Cambodia Association of Travel Agents president Chhay Sivlin said the private sector was eager for as early a reopening as possible to allow vaccinated foreign travellers to once more explore and experience the Kingdom.
And as Thailand and Vietnam trial partial, restricted border reopening schemes, Sivlin warns that Cambodia will lose prospective visitors to the neighbouring countries if plans to open are left on the backburner for too long.
Alluding to the fact that Cambodia has a better grip on the Covid-19 crisis than its neighbours, she stressed that countries with a lower risk of contracting the novel coronavirus and higher rates of inoculation against the pathogen should be first to reopen.
"The high vaccination rate in Cambodia will be a pivotal consideration for Cambodia to reopen for foreign visitors that have taken the jab. We are looking forward to receiving them with open arms," she said.
The Ministry of Tourism has repeatedly stated that the plan is to open Cambodia’s borders to fully-vaccinated international tourists in October-December.
Speaking at the launch of Covid-19 vaccination campaign for children aged 6-11 on September 17, the prime minister signalled that he was keen to allow all businesses to reopen soon if the Covid-19 situation shows significant signs of improvement.
“No one wants to see closures like this, our people want to go out. I first want to reopen the education sector, followed by the service industry … [including] domestic tourism – our people want to travel on Saturday, Sunday and public holidays,” he said, indicating that international tourism would follow soon after.
But he stopped short of abolishing quarantine requirements, at least in the near term, one of the options that had been on the table.
Instead, he hinted at a model reminiscent of “sandbox” schemes piloted in Thailand and Vietnam, with a seven-day quarantine period under controlled but less restrictive settings, during which inter-provincial travel is forbidden.
“It will not be an in-room quarantine,” he assured.
Citing strong Cambodia-China relations and the relatively low rate of daily new Covid-19 cases logged in the Kingdom, Hun Sen said Chinese tourists may be the first to be allowed in any reopening scheme.
"Now let's all brainstorm a way towards reopening to [international] tourists. Do not forget that services lead the economies of developed countries,” he stressed, highlighting the lucrative nature of the tertiary sector, which he said eclipses industry and agriculture.
Cambodia booked just $1.023 billion in international tourism revenue last year, representing a 79.4 per cent nosedive from $4.919 billion in 2019 due to the sweeping effects of the global Covid-19 pandemic, the tourism ministry reported in April.