Holidaymakers made nearly 1.26 million domestic trips nationwide during the three-day Pchum Ben Festival this year, representing an almost 90 per cent rise compared to the corresponding time last year, with Battambang, Siem Reap and Kep provinces receiving the most visitors, according to the Ministry of Tourism.

The festival marks the end of the 16-day Pchum Ben Holiday, which fell from September 11-26 this year, and is its only period to be celebrated as a public holiday.

The annual 16-day holiday is dedicated in memory of ancestors and is an occasion for families to get together, especially Cambodian Buddhists – it begins with a 15-day observance, when devotees typically gather at pagodas, bringing food and other offerings for monks.

The 15th day is the primary day of “great offering”, or Ben Thom, which coincides with the new moon. It was celebrated on September 25 this year.

The ministry tallied 1,259,121 internal tourists nationwide over the three-day Pchum Ben Festival, including 1,244,642 Cambodians and 14,479 foreign residents. Broken down by day, September 24-26 saw 339,459, 512,126 and 407,536 domestic trips, respectively.

Among first-level administrative divisions, Battambang province recorded the most trips over the three days at 210,122, followed by Siem Reap (143,470), Kep (116,776), Pursat (96,452), Preah Sihanouk (84,557), Kampong Cham (79,574), Kampot (77,548), Kandal (54,546), Kampong Chhnang (54,026) and Pailin (49,748).

Tourism minister Thong Khon revealed that the number of recorded domestic trips over this year’s Pchum Ben Festival increased 89.43 per cent over the analogous three days in 2021, which he chalked up to the easing of Covid-19 restrictions over the past year, particularly those concerning tourist destinations as well as rituals at pagodas.

“In 2021, people could only bring food and other offerings for monks to the front of pagoda entrances due to the Covid-19 crisis,” he said.

The minister remarked that the overall tourism situation over the three days had been “good”, despite heavy rains nationwide that caused floods, as well as congestion along national roads and other major thoroughfares.

Speaking to The Post on September 27, Ratanakkiri provincial Department of Tourism director Nget Pitou confirmed the ministry’s official tally of 18,161 internal travellers to the northeastern province over the three days – 18,015 Cambodian and 146 foreign residents in the Kingdom.

Seemingly inspired by these figures, he voiced optimism for the travel market and tourism development in Ratanakkiri and across the Kingdom going forward, stressing that Covid-19 had all but decimated the industry.

Pitou claimed that prices for food and accommodation in the province “had not risen to high levels”, which he credited to the authorities’ instructions before and during the Pchum Ben Festival for business owners to find and adopt ways to attract customers and encourage repeat visitors.

He also affirmed that Covid-related guidelines and arrangements are regularly publicised through the appropriate outreach and communication channels.

Preah Sihanouk provincial tourism department director Taing Sochet Kresna also affirmed the official tally of internal travellers to the coastal province, which he noted was a “five-to-10 per cent” rise from last year’s Pchum Ben festival.

He highlighted that the number of European visitors to Preah Sihanouk is on a remarkable growth course, in a market that was previously overwhelmingly dominated by the Chinese. Nonetheless, tourism to the province is expected to see a pick-up from end-2022, as the ministry launches a series of new policies to support tourism growth from all regions, he said.

In addition to the slew of new strategies geared towards the tourism sector, more transportation options over all modes of transport are becoming available, Sochet Kresna said, mentioning the 187.05km Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway, which is due to open to traffic in the beginning of next month.

Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA) president Chhay Sivlin commented that tourism flows across the Kingdom over the Pchum Ben Festival were “good”, and that food and accommodation prices at entertainment venues did not rise too much.

She asserted that the Kingdom’s generally effective Covid-19 management has instilled confidence in people to travel again, and continues to underpin efforts to draw in more international visitors to the Kingdom.