Insiders are positive about the future of the tourism sector as the government and private sector seek ways to mitigate the impact caused by COVID-19.
The Ministry of Tourism (MOT) and members of the tourism-based private sector are in discussions about a travel bubble measure to attract tourists to Cambodia during the pandemic, with China a priority.
Clais Chenda president of the Cambodia Hotel Association (CHA) expressed optimism the government’s move is a good sign for the future of tourism sector, which has been severely affected with lay-offs, hotel and guesthouse closures, furloughs and pay cuts.
“We hope that through this measure, there will be more programmes to promote the country’s tourism sector,” she said. “With the travel bubble, it will provide the sector with a chance to keep operating during COVID-19. It will give us a chance to attract foreign visitors to Cambodia and we will have a chance to keep our tourism community alive.”
Chenda pointed out China is the world’s most populous country and the Cambodia tourism sector can benefit greatly from the Chinese market.
“China is closer to Cambodia compared with other huge countries in the region,” she said. “The ministry intends to focus on high-end tourists during this time… and will not focus on mass tourism.”
She said while the end of the COVID-19 could not be predicted, the hotel industry is struggling to just keep operations alive.
Cambodia received 1.24 million international tourists during the first nine months of this year, a decrease of 74.1 percent compared with the same period last year while local visitors amounted to more than 7 million, a decline of 51.9 percent owing to the severe impact of COVID-19.
Chhay Sivlin, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, said matters needed to be dealt with soon to mitigate further damage risk, adding it is a positive sign that the tourism sector will be saved in part.
“We cannot wait to see the situation turn to normal without doing anything now. We need to find measures to save the sector at least in part.” A travel bubble is a cooperation between countries and regions to facilitate the flow of the tourism sector because borders cannot be fully open.
She said if the government is willing to address the issues, the sector will be able to be saved. “We cannot work with countries that are far away from Cambodia at this time. We need to cooperate with countries in the region that are controlling COVID-19 well.”
Sivlin said China is the only market that could recover fastest and the Chinese make up the largest number of foreign visitors to Cambodia. “We will focus on neighbouring countries as well but China is the priority,” she said.
Thoun Sinan, president of the Pacific Asia Travel Association, said after the internal discussion on Tuesday that the private sector wants the government to consider travel bubbles with neighbouring countries at the same time as with China.
“We have asked for the implementation of neighbouring countries first. We understand that China is a potential market, a purchasing-power country but Thailand and Vietnam will also help the tourism sector in the region as well,” he said.
However, the process is still in its infancy and there need to be more talks government-to-government.