Siem Reap province, which relies heavily on tourism, is gradually recovering in the post-Covid-19 period. Visitors from Europe and the US are returning to Cambodia, especially to the province, which is rich in ancient temples and cultural treasures. Visitors numbers from major tourist markets in Asia, such as China, Japan and South Korea, remain minimal, however.

The Post sat down with Thim Sereyvudh, acting director of the Provincial Department of Tourism, to learn more about the regeneration of the tourism sector in Siem Reap.

In your estimation, to what extent have tourism-related businesses and services in Siem Reap recovered since the reopening of the country after Covid-19?

In the wake of the pandemic, 88 per cent of tourism businesses have now restarted operations. Pre-Covid, there were 1,190. By the end of May, 1,043 separate businesses had reopened.

Siem Reap has many sectors that contribute to the development of the country, including agriculture, tourism, service provision and the manufacture of handicrafts. Tourism contributes significantly. In the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis, tourism-related businesses faced many challenges because their major customer base is international arrivals.

We now see the return of visitors, especially from European countries and the US; the number has increased almost to those recorded pre-pandemic. 

Unfortunately, arrivals from other major tourism markets such as China, South Korea, Japan and Thailand have not grown as much. As a result, hotels, restaurants, bistros and large buffets are not fully operational, but only partially reopened. For example, if a hotel has 300 rooms, it is likely that just 100 of them are open, to reduce staff expenses due to the limited number of tourists.

We see a lot of domestic tourists visiting the province, but only when there are national festivals and other events. Apart from these occasions, the tourism industry is still struggling, forcing many operations to reduce the number of employees and only partially open. Some large businesses or hotels remain shuttered, due to the lack of guests from major Asian nations.

From the beginning of 2024 until now, how many domestic and international tourists have visited Siem Reap?

In the first five months of this year, there were a total of 1,824,658 arrivals; with 477,258 of them from overseas. This represents an increase of 36.98 per cent over the same period last year. 

The number of domestic visitors was more than 1,352,400, an increase of 52.24 per cent when compared to the first five months of 2023.

Visitors to Siem Reap explore the elevated pathways of Neak Paon Temple. The provincial tourism department is working to highlight the many attractions available in the province. Supplied

Siem Reap has been prioritised by the government for the promotion of tourism promotion, through the “Visit Siem Reap 2024” campaign. What major events will be held before the end of the year?

A series of events such as the River Festival, joint performances of kung fu and L’bokator, and even a motorcycle and car racing event have already been held. In December, we will play host to the always popular Angkor Half-Marathon in the Angkor Archaeological Park.

In addition, various events are being planned by tourism associations and NGOs to help attract tourists to the province.

Apart from these, there will be a series of programmes outside the tourism sector, but they will still attract guests, thus allowing local people to earn an income.

Have tourism-related businesses developed attractive, innovative ways to return after the pandemic?

Following Covid-19, we have observed a number of new businesses open, including aquariums, flower gardens and community-based nature resorts. We have also seen many of them fine-tune the services they provide to meet customer’s expectations. 

For example, while they were shuttered many businesses were redesigned or renovated, or offered specialised training to their staff so they could attract more of the limited number of visitors to the province.

As far as the government is concerned, the Ministry of Tourism and the tourism department have taken the initiative and are working to make Cambodia a globally prestigious tourism destination.

We are doing this by strengthening the quality of service provision. This includes defining the necessary principles, as well through the training of tourism staff, with a focus on national and green standards.

A guest at the Angkor Wildlife & Aquarium snaps a photograph of a stingray. The new attraction is just one of the innovative new businesses which has opened in Siem Reap. Supplied

The challenge for tourism in the province seems to be the limited number of international tourists. What is the government's solution?

We have organised many events which have attracted large numbers of domestic visitors. Unfortunately, many domestic guests only stay for a short period, depending on the event.

Some challenges persist for tourism operators in the province, especially for those who are in debt. The government has provided loans for them, but some have opted not to accept the financing and have remained closed.

Some local residents claim that the atmosphere at Pub Street has changed. They suggest that the area is much louder than it was before the pandemic, and is causing a disturbance. If such a problem exists, what is the solution?

There are several relevant authorities – including the tourism ministry, the police and the provincial administration – on hand to deal with these kinds of situations. They are always standing by to deal with issues like excessive noise.

The provincial environment department has specific noise control measures in place, so tourism businesses of all kinds are aware of how much noise they can make at different times.

The department, and the provincial authorities, have also issued warnings to several repeat offenders, ordering them to reduce the volume of their stereos and sound systems.

As the acting director of the provincial tourism department, do you have any final words regarding reasons people should plan a visit to Siem reap?

I urge people from all provinces and towns to come and visit us. 

Siem Reap town itself is very attractive. It is clean, and has good roads, as well as excellent, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks.

The government spent a lot of resources on improving the infrastructure during the pandemic. There are even safe bike paths for bicyclists who want to ride around town or to the temples.

When it comes to cuisine, we have an excellent foodie scene here. In addition to some of the best Khmer food in the Kingdom, we have food and beverage options from China, Korea, Europe, Thailand, Japan and Italy. Whatever kind of restaurant people want, they can find it here.

In terms of hotels, we have many five and four star options, with everything from intimate boutique hotels to large resorts for family groups or even conferences and conventions.

We have seventeen community based natural resorts and the air at the Angkor Archaeological Park is some of the freshest in the country.

Visiting our province won’t just allow guests to create holiday memories that will last a lifetime – they will be supporting the livelihoods of local residents. 

As for personal safety, we are a completely safe destination, because we have always provided excellent security.