The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a precipitous drop of 78 percent in passenger traffic at Cambodia’s three international airports during the first 10 months of 2020 compared with 2019 figures, said a senior executive of the Cambodia Airports.
“It has been a challenging situation as our airports and air connectivity play a critical role in the Cambodian economy, said Khek Norinda, communication and public relations director for Cambodia Airports.
He said that during October, inbound and outbound traffic at the three airports combined for an average of 33 flights daily, with the vast majority occurring at Phnom Penh International Airport.
Norinda added that, “At present, traffic is limited to flights originating from a few Chinese cities, Seoul, Singapore and Taipei as well as several flights to and from Ho Chi Minh City and of course our own domestic flights.” He said that companies currently operating a regular slate of flights include Cambodia Angkor Air, Lanmei Air and Sky Angkor Air, with Cambodia Airways and JC Airlines operating a lower volume of flights.
Norinda said that with a few exceptions, the opening of a substantial number of green travel lanes in the Asia Pacific Accreditation Cooperation (APAC) region remains a long shot. He noted that most countries are grappling with its implementation because of the rapid change in the COVID-19 situation and difficulties in coordinating between nations as the situation continues to change.
“Representatives of the Cambodian travel and tourism sectors are jointly studying the establishment of safe travel corridors to and from some Chinese cities in conjunction with the MOT [Ministry of Tourism],” he added.
On Oct 27, government and tourism experts joined in discussions about how a travel bubble measure could help attract tourists to Cambodia during the pandemic period, with Chinese visitors set as a priority. The possible implementation of so-called closed-loop charter flights between Cambodia and China was raised by the MOT.
The measures discussed included designing packages approved by the MOT, which would appoint designated hotels, restaurants and transportation including airlines and sending lists of travellers to all relevant parties.
The measures would also require travellers and relevant parties to strictly follow sanitation and protection measures as instructed by the Ministry of Health as well as facilitate tour guides and health insurance for all travellers while they are in Cambodia.
The measures would retain the required $2,000 deposit held for healthcare expenses incurred by travellers testing positive for COVID-19.
Top Sopheak, the ministry’s secretary of state, said the policy will promote Cambodia as a destination safe for tourism that offers warm hospitality and great added value. It will also promote the socio-economic benefits of tourism in the Kingdom. “Everything is under process based on the actual situation,” Sopheak said.
Channel News Asia reported earlier this week that the Singapore-Hong Kong air travel bubble will commence on Nov 22, with one flight daily into each city. Flights will be limited to 200 passengers per flight, each way. This will increase to two flights a day on Dec 7.
Countries such as Thailand, South Korea and Japan could potentially partner with Singapore in setting up future air travel bubbles, although any decisions are likely to be contingent on how effectively COVID-19 is controlled in those countries rather than pressure for the resumption of tourism revenue, said travel experts.
Travellers, who must test negative for COVID-19, will be required to take the dedicated flights but will have no restrictions on their travel purposes. They will not have to follow a controlled itinerary or be subject to quarantine or stay-home notice.
This arrangement sets up a potential model for future air travel bubbles. Cambodia received more than 1 million international visitors during the first nine months of 2020, a decrease of 74.1 percent compared with the same period last year. Local visitors declined 51.9 percent with just slightly more than 7 million on record for the first nine months of 2020. Tourism experts estimate that Cambodia’s tourism sector will return to normal gradually under two potential scenarios measured three years (2020-2023) and five years (2020-2025).