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Tourism hit in coronavirus fight

Marie Lamy and Va Sonyka / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Tourists wait to check in at Phnom Penh International Airport. KT/ Pann Rachana

Reports of the virus hit the world late last year then thousands of emerging cases in China’s Wuhan city in Hubei province made international headlines. The virus would rapidly spread to other provinces as well, ahead of Chinese New Year. Isolating citizens to fend off the coronavirus became China’s priority and soon Cambodia’s tourism industry would be affected. Since then, tourism in the Kingdom has been on the decline following the COVID-19 outbreak. The Kingdom has recorded 106 confirmed cases as of Saturday. Marie Lamy and Va Sonyka spoke to owners of hotels and guesthouses in the Kingdom to find out how the decline in tourism has affected their businesses.

Long before COVID-19 cases hit Cambodia, Jennie Wan, owner of a hostel in Siem Reap province, had been observing the virus outbreak in China.

“Everyone was hanging out until COVID-19 cases exploded in February,” Ms Wan said.

As most businesses are closing down and laying off employees, she chooses to only temporarily close down her business to keep infections at bay.

However, she faces a growing problem regarding expenses.

“The hotel is temporarily closed, and we are not generating income,” Ms Wan said. “But we still have to pay wages.”


Tourist decline

According to the Tourism Ministry, tourism declined 52 percent earlier this year.

The government in February responded by offering promotional Angkor Archaelogical Park fare tickets.

The government also announced a series of measures to help Siem Reap’s tourism industry. Prime Minister Hun Sen said registered hotels and guesthouses in the province are exempted from taxes until May. He even allowed flights from China to land in the Kingdom amid COVID-19 fears.

Such measures were welcomed by Ms Wan, but she still had no choice but to sell personal belongings to make payroll.

“I do not want my staff to lose their job and have no income during this extreme circumstance,” she said.

Like many others in the hospitality industry in Siem Reap, the first three months of this year were supposed to be peak season. Ms Wan said when the outbreak in China made the news, 80 percent of her clients cancelled their bookings.

“Chinese tourists are our number one visitors, this year was a big loss for us,” she said.

Earlier this month, the government also decided to ban foreign nationals from the United States, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Iran due to rising cases there.

Chenda Clais, president of the Cambodia Hotel Association, told Khmer Times the group is asking the government to work with financial institutions to provide interest-free loans to hotels and hostel owners amid income losses.

Ms Clais said the government has to ensure local accommodation businesses are able to re-open to customers after the virus is quelled.


Visitor point of view

A backpacker from France told Khmer Times he is stranded in Phnom Penh, which soured his vacation in Southeast Asia.

“Places everywhere are closed, I did not imagine my holiday would be like this,” the man said, noting Phnom Penh has less COVID-19 cases than his home country.

Chhay Siv Lin, president of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents, told Khmer Times: “Foreign tourists stranded in Cambodia should have their health checked at Phnom Penh’s Chak Angre hospital.”

Steve Vaile, co-founder of Mad Monkey, a bar in Phnom Penh, said his hostel is still open, but only for stranded travelers.

“Many got their flights cancelled and are stuck in Cambodia,” Mr Vaile said, adding every customer must have their temperature checked.

“Our occupancy rate is at five percent, yet we decided to close dormitory rooms. Only private rooms are available. Hostel features such as the pool, bar and restaurant are closed as many employees were sent home,” he said, noting we should all help each other during trying times.

Top Sopheak, undersecretary of state at the The Tourism Ministry, said yesterday the ministry on Friday announced it now has a registry of tourists staying in guesthouses and hotels.

“It is to help the ministry check the travel history of each tourist in case they are infected,” Mr Sopheak said.


More measures

As the tourism industry struggles to pay its employees, the government on Friday imposed travel restrictions to reduce COVID-19 infections starting last night. The restrictions include the suspension of visa exemptions, tourist visas, e-visas and visa on arrivals for one month.

According to the government, foreigners wishing to travel to Cambodia are asked to obtain a visa at a Cambodian diplomatic mission abroad and a health certificate 72 hours before departure.

It said visitors will also need to have $50,000 in health insurance incase medical coverage is needed.

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