ASEAN tourism leaders have agreed on a plan to reopen international travel into the region during and after the Covid-19 crisis.

The agreement was reached during the virtual 55th Meeting of ASEAN National Tourism Organisations and Related Meetings, hosted from Sihanoukville on December 14-15, as the 2021 Southeast Asian Sailing Championship was underway Preah Sihanouk province.

The main points of the plan cover the organisation of associated work activities; a policy framework for the sustainable development of ASEAN tourism; the preparation of the ASEAN Tourism Marketing Strategy 2021-2025 and research evaluation principles aimed at providing opportunities for ASEAN tourism workers.

Other topics include the launch of the ASEAN Tourism Investment Guide and other investment promotion initiatives; the use of digital and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions in line with the ASEAN Declaration on Digital Tourism; and direct flights to Cambodia.

The documentation is to be submitted to the ASEAN Tourism Ministers' Meeting for guidance and directions for implementation within the cooperation framework for ASEAN and relevant partners.

The meeting was also attended by tourism leaders from Russia, India, China, Japan and South Korea.

Without disclosing names, Ministry of Tourism spokesman Top Sopheak noted that some ASEAN countries had yet to reopen.

He told The Post on December 19 that although Cambodia has seen significant improvements in Covid metrics and imposes very few restrictions on ASEAN travellers, most international arrivals to the Kingdom must take a connecting flight in a neighbouring country.

This has prompted the ministry’s leadership to push regional countries to roll out such a plan, which is designed to restore tourism and direct flights to the Kingdom, he said.

"Our neighbours Thailand, Laos and Vietnam are facing a lot of challenges … ASEAN tourism cannot recover immediately, it’ll take more time to achieve a wider restoration of international tourism."

Pacific Asia Travel Association (Pata) Cambodia chapter chairman Thourn Sinan told The Post on December 19 that agreement among ASEAN tourism ministers on the terms of reopening would provide a shot in the arm to efforts to encourage international tourists to return to the region.

He said that ASEAN leaders at most levels have agreed to set out a regional plan to promote tourism and other sectors, but noted that the pace of implementation is far slower than in the European community.

And in a swipe at some of the more unsavoury characters in regional governments, Sinan said: “When a plan or principle is issued and it reaches the officer in charge of implementation, it’s a different matter.

“Things are only on paper, or word of mouth, and are not implemented because each of them is merely a jerk, just wearing a tie and jacket at the meetings."

Sinan also noted that despite the generous requirements for entry into the Kingdom, the number of international arrivals has remained low, a fact he blamed on the ASEAN countries that remain closed.