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‘Slow road’ to recovery likely for Siem Reap

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An Apsara dance performance during the Khmer New Year celebration at a temple in Siem Reap on April 14. SIEM REAP ADMINISTRATION

‘Slow road’ to recovery likely for Siem Reap

Siem Reap is the heart of the Cambodian tourism sector, and is known worldwide as the home of the famous Angkor Wat temple. Located in northwestern Cambodia, the province was hit hard by the global Covid-19 crisis, which has now gone on for more than two years.

The province is an important cultural and historical tourism destination in Cambodia, largely due to the presence of the Angko Archeological Park and its ancient temples. Prior to the pandemic, it received as many as 60 per cent of the total number of domestic and international tourists in the country.

Mid-2020 through late 2021 was when the Kingdom suffered the most, with the tourism industry in Siem Reap in serious crisis. Hotels, guesthouses, entertainment venues and resorts were mostly shuttered, with those that remained open struggling to attract customers. Thanks to the unprecedented success of the government’s vaccination campaign, the country was officially reopened in November 2021. Now, at last, there are signs that Siem Reap is recovering.

According to provincial Department of Tourism director Ngov Sengkak, in the first five months of 2022, Siem Reap received just over one million visitors, a massive jump from the roughly 120,000 that visited in 2021. Just 45,779 of the million were foreign visitors, however.

Sengkak said the improvement has shown that the tourism sector is gradually improving. Although the number of tourists has not returned to the heady days of 2019, it was a step towards a recovery.

He added that during this five-month period, there were 292 flights to Siem Reap with a total of 24,551 passengers. International airlines that had landed in the province included Singapore Airline, Air Asia, Thai Smile, China Eastern, Bangkok Air, Air Iceland and 29 charter flights. Domestic arrivals included Cambodia Angkor Air and Cambodia Airways.

Long Kosal, deputy director-general of the Apsara National Authority (ANA) – a body tasked with managing the park – said national and international tourists began to visit the temples gradually after the government reopened the nation, and that the province has begun organising entertainment events after suspending them for the past two years.

“The provincial authorities have completed construction of 38 new roads, which has made it easier for visitors to come from all over. The new infrastructure, coupled with the conservation and development of the ANA, will boost the flow of tourists to Siem Reap this year,” he said.

Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA) president Chhay Sivlin said tourism businesses in Siem Reap have not fully reopened, despite the country’s recovery, as the number of international tourists was still limited. They still faced several challenges, including a lack of human resources and capital for renovations.

“Some tourism-related businesses are waiting for a $150 million finance scheme that the government is preparing to help restore the sector. The Ministry of Economy and Finance is working on this with several banks. We are waiting to hear what the terms of these loans will be,” she said.

She said that due to the large demand for employees, the CATA – with the support of the ministry – plan to organise training courses for tour guides, travel agents, tour tourism-related businesses and hospitality workers.

The association is also planning to receive study tours from ASEAN, including from travel agencies and journalists, to disseminate the updated tourism products that the tourism ministry has highlighted.

Thourn Sinan, president of the Cambodian chapter of the Pacific Asia Travel Association, said there are still very few guests, and that arrival numbers were almost incomparable to the pre-Covid-19 figures.

“Siem Reap is the worst affected province because it is completely dependent on tourism. The tourism sector has yet to return to a position of self sufficiency. When we look at the numbers of international visitors today, it is less than five per cent of the 2019 arrivals,” he said.

According to the tourism ministry, Cambodia received 196,495 international tourists in 2021, a decrease of 85 per cent compared to the same period the previous year. Arrivals by land fell 80 per cent, and arrivals by ship were down 99.6 per cent.

Thailand emerged as the top source of international tourists, with Thai 81,844 arrivals, although their numbers had fallen by 61.2 per cent. China made up the second largest group, although the figures were down by 86.1 per cent.

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