Tourism making a big comeback in 2023 is the fervent hope of a great many Cambodians who have long relied on the flood of visitors to the Kingdom each year and the boost to their business they bring with them.
While some tourism-related businesses have been able to shift their focus to cater to domestic travellers during these past few pandemic years, others have found that transition difficult due to the nature of their services.
One obvious example has been the scuba diving tour industry based in the coastal provinces and islands in Cambodia’s territorial waters, which is almost entirely reliant on foreign customers and dollars as the hobby has yet to take off in the Kingdom.
Veteran scuba diver Nhem Buthorng, operator of the Khmer Dive Group, said that a person must spend an average of $400 travelling to the islands to dive into the sea and swim among the coral reefs there.
However, that $400 will include a scuba diving course and swimming certificate, because if a traveller does not have those qualifications they can’t safely or ethically be allowed by the instructors to go on a dive.
Buthorng explained that the diving course takes about four days to complete. The first day is basically an introduction and teaching theory. The second day the students practice swimming in shallow water. The third and fourth days are used to build up to an 18 metre deep water swim with close instructor supervision.
The reasons for all of the caution involved before allowing anyone to dive is well established. If someone’s gear isn’t working properly or isn’t being used by them correctly, they could easily run low on oxygen and faint while in the water, which is a situation that has led to numerous drowning incidents around the world over the years.
In addition to that danger, there is also the remote but still possible chance of an encounter with a particularly dangerous animal, whether it’s a big shark (very rare, and they do not typically attack humans even when nearby) or less frightening but even more dangerous creatures like incredibly poisonous jellyfish.
For those who complete the training and make it into the seas of Cambodia, they will find water that is crystal clear and enables divers to see an incredible array of species that puts the word biodiversity in a new light as they visit coral reefs teeming with all manner of aquatic life.
Khmer Dive Group provides scuba diving courses and organises trips to various islands for tourists to visit the amazing coral reefs. The company also works on supporting, researching and conserving biodiversity that has yet to be taxonomically identified by science because the ocean is big and we don’t know the whole contents of it by a long shot.
“Since the country reopened, we have received some tourists again, but the number of tourists is not yet high like it was before Covid. We tend to receive more foreign visitors than Khmer ones,” Buthorng stated.
He continued that the company makes thorough preparations to ensure the safety of visitors who are diving with their groups and they always have skilled divers set to help them.
He also said that despite the rate of Cambodians trying out scuba diving or taking it up long-term as a passion being very low today, the company expects that in the future Cambodian interest in the hobby will increase drastically due to the ever-growing level of environmental awareness among Cambodians and their rising incomes and emerging middle-class.