Domestic tourism has been on a rather negative trajectory this month as Omicron fears linger, even as Covid-19 response efforts ease into an endemic approach. But observers have high hopes that the Khmer New Year holidays next month will breathe new life into the beleaguered industry.
Vacationers made 659,426 domestic trips across Cambodia over the six days during the first, second and fourth weekends of this month, down by 6.95 per cent over the first, third and fourth weekends of February, the publicly-available Ministry of Tourism notices indicate.
Foreign residents accounted for 35,318 of this month’s trips (or 5.36 per cent of the total), up 24.9 per cent over the corresponding six days of February.
Preah Sihanouk provincial Department of Tourism director Taing Sochet Kresna told The Post that the number of visitors to the coastal province has been trending down over the past couple of months due to concerns over the coronavirus Omicron variant.
He attributed this decline to “heightened security checks” in Preah Sihanouk, commenting on the stark difference from when Chinese and other foreign residents would flock to the province every weekend.
International tourism too has yet to experience a meaningful pick-up. Sochet Kresna noted that international chartered flights to the province have not seen a significant increase since Cambodia opened its doors to fully-vaccinated arrivals in November.
“I’ve received information that ASEAN countries will be fully reopened after the Khmer New Year, so I understand that international tourism growth will be able to bounce back,” he said. Khmer New Year falls on April 14 this year.
Sochet Kresna expects domestic tourism traffic to pick up during the upcoming holidays, as it had over the Lunar New Year season. He confirmed that bookings for guesthouses and hotels have been increasing steadily.
By contrast, in nearby Kep, provincial Department of Tourism director Som Chenda told The Post on March 28 that the province has seen a tourism surge since the beginning of 2022 that has extended into March.
“Most” local travellers visiting provinces such as Kampot and Preah Sihanouk make a stop in Kep, he claimed, sharing that around 50,000 tourists had visited his province this month alone.
But even as travellers to Kep climb back up, Chenda affirms that the province will not let up on the implementation of the “three do’s and three dont’s” Covid-19 guidelines and the Minimum Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for tourism businesses to prevent an outbreak of the disease in tourist areas.
With “accommodations such as hotels, guesthouses, resorts, et cetera booked a lot”, the top provincial tourism official voiced confidence in a considerable upswing in visitors to the province over the Khmer New Year.
Cambodia Association of Travel Agents adviser Ho Vandy said that despite global outbreaks, the Ministry of Health has been able to keep the spread of Omicron to a minimal level, with confirmed Covid-19 cases recently showing signs of slowing.
He stressed that this offers “positive signs” in the run-up to the holidays, and the possibility of organising major Songkran events in the provinces, which he said could draw larger numbers of tourists – should Covid-19 prevention efforts hold up till then.
At the same time, he said, international tourists may also increase as ASEAN countries reopen and ease entry and exit conditions.
“By April 1, ASEAN will be more open – some countries will also have lifted Covid-19 restrictions. Vietnam reopened on March 18, while Thailand and Singapore are set to reopen in early April,” the tourism veteran said.
However, along with the reopenings and increased intra-regional tourism movement, Vandy expects ASEAN countries to adopt a suitable “new normal” approach, which he views as a priority to revive the tourism sector during and after the pandemic.