The Ministry of Tourism has announced the reopening of beer gardens nationwide, so long as businesses enforce tourism safety rules and minimum standard operating procedure (SOP), in line with the “new normal” vision for the venues.

In a letter of resolution, Minister of Tourism Thong Khon, said the move aims to compel these businesses to observe the necessary measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and enhance tourism safety in the Kingdom.

According to the resolution, beer gardens that properly comply with the applicable tourism safety rules – and score 80 per cent or more on an evaluation – will receive a certificate in recognition.

The resolution invited anyone looking to open a beer garden or renew a tourism licence to apply at one window service offices at the Phnom Penh Municipal Administration or provincial counterparts, cautioning that adherence to the pertinent tourism safety rules is mandatory.

Owners or operators of beer gardens that were shut down during Covid-19 who wish to resume business must apply for a new tourism licence, valid for one year from the date that a complete application is received, as per the standard procedure.

Businesses that fail to apply for the proper permits or neglect the applicable tourism safety rules are subject to an immediate licence suspension, pursuant to Paragraph 2, Article 44 of the Law on Tourism.

“The tourism safety measures for beer gardens have been put in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and may be extended as needed. Anyone who falsifies a beer garden business certification … will be punished according to the laws in force,” according to the resolution.

Tourism ministry spokesman Top Sopheak told The Post on November 4 that Khon had issued the letter to Phnom Penh municipal governor Khuong Sreng and his provincial counterparts.

He pointed out that the ministry has yet to reopen other “adult-oriented recreational establishments across the country, such as karaokes, bars and discotheques”, noting that beer gardens feature unique settings – such as being outdoors – that convinced officials that they are safe enough to reopen.

There are 173 registered beer gardens that employ more than 3,200 staff, he said, underlining that reopening plans underwent thorough government review and were implemented as a strategy to alleviate poverty and allay the hardships of the people in the Covid-19 era.

However, he indicated that the ministry would perform inspections and have other control mechanisms to ensure that the venues which are to open follow the SOP.

Penh Socheatna, owner of Russey Sros Beer Garden and KTV in the capital, told The Post on November 4 that she would not apply to reopen, despite the decision, saying that the pandemic had upended her finances.

“When Covid-19 came, we lost our income and were left only with expenses. And when the pandemic loosened up a bit, they [the authorities] let us resume the business, but people were not willing to come out at night.

“We had lost our source of income once, and then when the authorities ordered a complete shutdown, we suffered serious losses. Now there’s no money left to run it again,” Socheatna lamented.

Pacific Asia Travel Association Cambodia chapter chairman Thourn Sinan stressed that beer gardens are at the core of food and entertainment services, claiming that reopening them would substantially spur the economy, providing regular monthly income for workers and uplifting other sectors associated with food and beverages.

The government-ordered closures, which Sinan said were announced in the interest of national security, caused a wide range of people to become unemployed and lose income sources, he said.

In addition to waitresses, escorts too were deprived of significant income, he added.