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Local tourists ‘not enough to save sector’

Sorn Sarath / Khmer Times Share:
Enjoying the views. A pleasant day out for local tourists. Supplied

The number of local tourists reached nearly 400,000 in just three weeks this May after fears of Coronavirus appeared to ease, according to Ministry of Tourism figures, but insiders say it’s not enough to restore the sector to normal.

Minister of Tourism Thong Khon said that during the last three week to May 24, local tours travelling to tourism sites in the country reached 398,099 , of which 7,177 were from overseas. The minister said in just the third week of May the number of local tourists was 141,558.

However, Thoun Sinan, president of the Pacific Asia Travel Association the sector remained strongly dependent on international tourists.

“Local tourists will not be sustainable in the long-term for the whole industry after COVID-19 ends because Cambodian people are getting less money as the economy falters,” he said. “If the country’s economy remains like this it will affect expenditure,” he said.

“Local tourists could not restore the sector to normal. It might help to some extent but now our people are losing revenue because of COVID-19.

He added only big tourism destinations such as Kep, Kampot and Preah Sihanoukville and the islands have seen much of an inflow of visitors.

“I think local people just started travelling because they needed to release stress after staying at home.”

Sinan said if the COVID-19 pandemic ends this year, the Kingdom’s tourism sector will start to see a rebound from the end of 2021 of 20 to 30 percent.

Local tourists enjoy a Cambodian river. Supplied

“If we talk about a full recovery, it could take until 2023. Big companies will suffer most and we don’t know how many of them will return normal,” he said.

COVID-19 has closed hotels and grounded planes for many weeks. Now the human cost of this standstill is coming into focus.

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) predicts that between 100 and 120 million jobs in tourism are at risk as a result of the collapse in demand for international travel.

In March, the World Travel and Tourism Council forecast that international travel could fall by up to 25 percent this year. UNWTO now anticipates a 60-80 percent decline. When and where the industry recovers will depend largely on when and which governments ease restrictions.

But while the UNWTO warns the crisis could threaten progress on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for tourism, others in the industry say there is now an opportunity to rebuild in new, more sustainable ways.

According to the Ministry of Tourism’s figures, Cambodia welcomed 6.61 million international tourists in 2019. The data shows that local tourist amounted to 11.3 million while Cambodians travelling outbound numbered 2.04 million.

However, Thoun Sinan insists that the government needs to be ready to welcome a big regional influx of visitors.

“Now we need to consider a recovery plan. We cannot wait until the end of COVID-19. The government needs to have a national market development plan,” he said. “We cannot prepare for Westerners but we need to ready to welcome regional visitors, from Asean and the Asia-Pacific region.”

During discussions with Tourism Minister Thong Khon this week, the Australian Ambassador to Cambodia Pablo Chiho Kang, said that Cambodia should be the first destination choice for tourists to visit once COVID-19 is over.

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