The government has prepared a draft “Special Tourism Policy” with the participation of about 60 institutions including ministries and private sector groups.

Thourn Sinanchairman of IMCT (International Management Cooperation Team) Co Ltd and the Pacific Asia Travel Association Cambodia Chapter (PATACC), sees tourism policy as hugely important in guiding the recovery of the Kingdom’s tourism sector, arguably the industry hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Post sat down with Sinan to discuss the new policy and several issues related to the post-pandemic recovery of the tourism sector.

The government has been preparing a draft “Policy on Special Tourism” with widespread consultation. What do you think about the policy?

I am grateful to the government for establishing the policy – I think it will be beneficial for Cambodia and will attract investment as well as long-stay tourists.

However, I have some points that I would like the government to consider. I know that in this project, they have offered a minimum of 100ha to investors. I think they should consider lowering the requirement to 10ha, as it would attract more local investment.

They should also clarify exactly what rights those who invest in these special zones will have.

I support the decision to not allow these zones in border areas, but would like to know what nationality the government is expecting to invest.

How do these special tourist zones differ from ordinary resorts?

The difference is that the special tourist zone refers to a newly developed place which combines nature and new housing. Guests will be able to purchase holiday homes here and stay much longer than regular tourists.

What are your expectations for this policy, and will the private sector benefit from it?

Not only the private sector but also the indirect state will benefit greatly from this policy. As we all know, there are more than 4 million expats living in Thailand. Every year, the families of these expats visit Thailand, providing a significant boost to tourist numbers. This is a major benefit of having long term tourists.

How long do you expect it to be before international tourist numbers are restored to their pre-Covid-19 numbers?

Back in 2020, I said we would need 5 years to recover. If the pandemic ended that year, by 2025 it would have returned to normal.

Unfortunately, this was not the way it played out. The Covid virus mutating into new variants and the outbreak of an entirely new virus – monkeypox – would have delayed recovery on their own, of course. But they are now combined with the conflict in Ukraine and tensions between China and Taiwan.

These factors have had huge effects on the recovery of travel and tourism. If these crises are solved this year, I think a five to seven year recovery is likely.

What additional policies could the government implement to attract more foreign tourists to Cambodia?

I would like to see comprehensive ASEAN cooperation. We should be looking to exchange visitors more easily – especially as large nations like China, South Korea and Japan remain closed.

India has recently opened its borders. And I think the government should be pushing to grow that market. We should be looking to prepare tourism products that specifically target Indian tourists.

Obviously, this the digital age, and the government should embrace that. It might be a good strategy to invite foreign influencers to tourist sites in the Kingdom, as their followers often emulate their vacations. The government should assign a budget for digital marketing to ensure its campaign goes well.

As a tourism expert, how would you describe conditions in Cambodia to potential international visitors?

I urge international visitors to return. Cambodia was one of the first countries to offer exemptions from complex travel requirements and is completely reopened.

It is also worth pointing out that Cambodia is less densely populated than many parts of the world and has one of the highest vaccination rates of any nation. Covid-19 is effectively under control here, making Cambodia one of the safest places in the world to travel to. It is also reasonably priced, so I would expect that many international travelers would consider visiting.

Naturally, I encourage domestic tourists to use this opportunity to visit the Kingdom’s tourist attractions rather than travel abroad.