The tourism ministry is said to have trained more than 70,000 tourism workers in a push to combat a post-Covid-19 shortage of skilled professionals, as international visitors to the Kingdom near 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

But with expectations that the travel industry will see a full recovery to pre-Covid norms by 2025 or 2026, some observers fear that qualified workers are lagging behind demand growth, despite the best efforts of the Ministry of Tourism and other stakeholders.

To put things in perspective, the number of direct jobs in the Cambodian tourism sector fell “52.4 per cent” from around 630,000 in 2019 to 300,000 in 2020, before dropping an additional one-quarter to 225,000 in 2021, and then jumping back two-fifths to 320,000 in 2022 – still roughly half of the 2019 figure, according to data reported by the ministry.

Spokesman Top Sopheak confirmed to The Post on April 20 that a training scheme under his ministry has groomed more than 70,000 people, and although he acknowledged the lack of skilled personnel relative to the increasing demand for tourism services, he suggested that the gap may narrow to pre-Covid levels by next year.

The ministry is working with “utmost caution”, in collaboration with the private sector, “to train people in these professions, understanding that professionalism might mean the difference between life and death in the field”, he stated, opining that – in general – each worker should choose a speciality and follow a particular career path.

“Professionalism is exemplified in the effectiveness of providing a cordial environment in the service of any customer. A decrease in professionalism undermines services,” he cautioned.

Meanwhile, Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA) president Chhay Sivlin claimed that a considerable proportion of newer tourism training experts appear not to have a keen grasp of what the industry needs, making it all the more difficult to upskill and reskill the workforce.

She explained that many of the tourism professionals who left the industry during Covid to pursue other careers have yet to return, while newly-trained personnel are still struggling due to lack of experience and practical knowledge.

“Major tourist destinations such as Siem Reap as well as the coastal and northeastern regions are facing a shortage of such professionals,” Sivlin shared, extending her appreciation to the ministry for its training services.

According to the ministry, Cambodia welcomed 837,446 international visitors in the first two months of the year, nearly nine times the 95,321 recorded in 2022, but still 67.28 per cent of the 1,244,689 posted in January-February 2019.

The majority of the travellers had their purpose of visit marked as “holiday”, at 654,116 or 78.11 per cent, followed by “business” (161,015; 19.23%) and “others” (22,315; 2.66%).

The breakdowns for the corresponding two-month periods of 2022 and 2019 were: “holiday” (64,899; 68.08%), “business” (25,011; 26.24%), “others” (5,411; 5.68%) for the former; and “holiday” (1,038,679; 83.45%), “business” (171,117; 13.75%), “others” (34,893; 2.80%) for the latter.