The Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA) called on the government to take urgent measures to rescue the tourism sector after 3,000 tourism enterprises closed due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.

CATA president Chhay Sivlin said that up until recently, even closed businesses sought to retain their professional staff in order to recover quickly once the Covid-19 situation improved because it was difficult to find experts in the field.

She said some owners were injecting capital into their shuttered tourism businesses to retain their staff, but the crisis has lasted too long. Now many businesses have been forced to dismiss them.

“Business owners are unable to support their staff, and they are starting to lay people off. Now those workers are having trouble finding new sources of income. Some of them are working as fortune tellers or Feng Shui consultants, taxi drivers or real estate agents,” he said.

According to Sivlin, having more than 3,000 tourism businesses permanently closed has left tourism experts scattered, and the full damage to the sector will be difficult to assess until the industry rebounds.

He said about 600 businesses of the 3,000 tried to reopen, but many have now closed once again.

“As an institution representing the private sector, we want more attention from the government. Of course, in the past, there has been some relief provided through tax exemptions, National Social Security Fund exceptions and salaries.

“But it is still not enough due to the protracted situation, so the government should take more immediate special measures,” Sivlin said.

Tourism ministry secretary of state and spokesman Top Sopheak said the government continued to enact favourable policies for tourism businesses such as free licences and exemptions for tour operators who had been subject to taxes.

“During the first three months of 2021, the government also announced the same exemptions, including the non-payment of licence fees and support to workers in our target areas,” he said.

According to Sopheak, the ministry has also made plans to rehabilitate the tourism sector both during and after the Covid-19 crisis.

But for now, he said, domestic tourism should be promoted as there are “almost zero” international tourists.

Cambodia Chinese Tour Guide Association president Tea Kileng said the Covid-19 situation remained shrouded in uncertainties despite reports of the beginning of the vaccine distribution later this year.

As for the previous support, he said it was only given to staff of hotels, restaurants and factories but not to tour guides who were directly and severely affected by the loss of tourism.

“The money isn’t much, but it can help a little bit in the long run. So, I would like to suggest providing government aid to tour guides, too,” Kileng said.

Ngov Kim Sreng, a Chinese-language tour guide in Siem Reap, said the Covid-19 crisis made things very difficult because no international tourists visited, and this made it difficult to earn a living or find a way to pay off debts.

“People working like we do are waiting to serve guests. We don’t have a company. We also don’t have alternative businesses. We’re like farmers who can only stare at the sky hoping the rain will come soon,” he said.

Mann Haimy, a souvenir seller in Siem Reap, said his business closed after the Covid-19 crisis due to the loss of customers which left him with no money to rent the shop space.

“There are no guests. We cannot control the rent because we do not have our own house. We rent these shops, and without customers, we’re forced to close the business.”

Sopheak said tour guides could still work, but they must adapt to serve domestic tourists for now. He urged the private sector to prepare domestic tourism packages.

“Please hire these guides when visiting tourist sites so that they can earn some money,” he said.