Cambodia welcomed 108,000 international tourists in the first half of 2021, down 90.8 per cent from 1.18 million in the same period of 2020, according to the central bank.

And Chinese tourist arrivals to the Kingdom plummeted 87.8 per cent to 275,671 in the January-June period, the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) reported.

The NBC said global economic uncertainty and the spread of Covid-19, which prompted a lockdown during the first half, continue to take a toll on Cambodia’s economic activity and growth prospects for 2021, and dampen hopes of a quick recovery for the tourism industry.

In an effort to revive the tourism sector, Minister of Tourism Thong Khon early in April asked Prime Minister Hun Sen to consider opening the door to the Angkor area and other tourist destinations in Siem Reap province in October-December for international tourists who have been vaccinated against the novel coronavirus.

According to Khon, the ministry is currently in discussions with the Ministry of Health and other relevant ministries and the private sector to study the practical aspects of the plan in detail.

Hun Sen on April 1 formally approved a 2021-2025 three-phased national tourism roadmap and a 2021-2035 Siem Reap provincial tourism development master plan to navigate the sector’s emergence from the Covid-19 pandemic and support its recovery.

Through the strategies put forth by the two guidelines, Siem Reap could attract 10.9 million domestic tourists by 2023 and 7.5 million international tourists by 2025, creating 940,000 jobs and generating an additional $6 billion in revenue for the province’s economy, according to the ministry.

Pacific Asia Travel Association Cambodia chapter chairman Thourn Sinan told The Post on August 9 that cross-border travel restrictions, coupled with safety and health concerns have triggered a sharp global decline in international tourism, a trend also seen in the Kingdom.

However, he said he was optimistic that the number of international tourists visiting Cambodia would gradually start to show more positive signs from the fourth quarter of this year, with the series of new strategies that the government has launched to revitalise the national economy, including tourism.

On the other hand, he said, new coronavirus cases are mostly limited to migrant workers returning from neighbouring countries, and not large-scale investors or tourists coming in from abroad.

“I am confident that the government will have a clear argument for the resumption of Cambodian tourism in the fourth quarter, having accelerated the vaccination of people aged 12 and over, and as the number of infections in the country also records gradual declines,” Sinan said.

Cambodia Association of Travel Agents president Chhay Sivlin in April said she backed Khon’s efforts to reopen tourism, voicing optimism that it could speed up recovery of an industry reeling from a more than a year-long battle with the health crisis.

She said the move and overall return of international tourists would not only bring back incomes and jobs to the sector, but be a testament to Cambodia’s success in managing the pandemic. “We really want the sector to resume as soon as possible.”

But the road to recovery will be long and arduous. Tourism ministry statistics show that the Kingdom welcomed 1,306,143 international visitors in 2020, cratering 80.2 per cent from 6,610,592 in 2019.

The latest figures show that foreign visitors spent $4.91 billion in tourism receipts in 2019, an increase of 12.4 per cent over $4.37 billion in 2018.