The Ministry of Tourism has unveiled an eight-pronged strategy aimed at raising the full-year numbers of international visitors to Cambodia and domestic trips nationwide to at least 7.5 million and 16 million by 2028, respectively, following the devastating blows to the tourism sector dealt by the Covid-19 crisis over the 2020-2021 period.

In a September 30 report on its work progress over the past five years, the ministry noted that international travellers to Cambodia grew from “more than 290,000” in 1998 to 6.6 million in 2019. Similarly, domestic trips across the Kingdom grew from one million to 11.3 million over the same 21-year period.

However, growth slowed dramatically from the beginning of 2020 due to Covid, which not only ravaged tourism, but led to a series of major socio-economic shocks.

The first four elements of the strategy are to: develop creative and innovative tourism products and services; upgrade the quality of tourism services in accordance with recognised standards; support training and upskilling among tourism professionals; and promote convenience and safety in tourism transport and mobility.

The remaining four are to: improve capacity building, research and promotion for Cambodian tourism; encourage the adoption of modern technologies in the field; launch more key policies to prop up tourism development; and step up tourism governance mechanisms and human resource development.

“The Ministry of Tourism has set out major policies, plans and strategies for the next five years from 2023 to 2028, for the effective, quality and sustainable management and development of the tourism sector.

“Sustainable tourism development is an essential government policy to develop the nation and serve the best interests of the people,” the ministry said.

Speaking to The Post on October 2, Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Cambodia chapter chairman Thourn Sinan contended that the latest government strategy would drive concerted efforts by all stakeholders geared towards earning international acclaim for the Cambodian tourism scene.

Sinan voiced optimism that effective all-round implementation of the strategy would result in success for the 2028 international-visitor target of 7.5 million, although he predicted 5.25 million under an adverse scenario.

Naturally, he said, this depends on global geopolitical and economic developments, with potential major conflicts, epidemics or other crises sure to present significant obstacles that may undermine government efforts or any kind of tourism promotion initiatives.

Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA) president Chhay Sivlin believes that 7.5 million is an attainable target, given significant efforts by the authorities and the private sector against the backdrop of the current international tourism situation.

Sivlin defended her stance, arguing that Cambodia rolled back Covid-related entry requirements and hence “opened” to foreign arrivals before China and a host of other countries. She also pointed out that the Kingdom had tallied nearly one million international visitors by August 31.

“Cambodia is now beginning to see a resurgence of international tourists from all over, especially nearby countries, whereas China had accounted for the largest share prior to the Covid-19 crisis. Receiving a diversity of tourists from all these destinations will have many positive effects for national economic growth,” she said.

Ministry figures show that Cambodia welcomed 998,272 international arrivals in the first eight months of 2022, marking a 720 per cent rise year-on-year, albweit a 77 per cent drop from the same period in 2019, prior to Covid. August along accounted for more than a quarter, at 254,813, up 7.65 per cent over July (236,697), which had seen a 44.95 per cent jump from June (163,298).

Of note, if the number of international visitors for each remaining month this year is equal to or greater than the August figure, the full-year total would top 2.017 million.

Cambodia booked just $184 million in international tourism revenue last year, marking an 82 per cent nosedive from $1.023 billion in 2020, according to tourism ministry statistics. Last year’s figure was down by more than 96 per cent from the all-time peak of $4.919 billion in 2019, which had risen by 12.4 per cent over 2018, according to ministry statistics.

The tourism and travel industry accounted for 1.8 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2021, down from the three per cent and 12.1 per cent recorded in 2020 and 2019, respectively.