Newly-minted Minister of Tourism Sok Soken is implementing a new tourism strategy and action plan called “BUILD Plus 3Ds” to propel tourism development in Cambodia after being hit hard by Covid-19, and further compounded by the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, which is impacting travel expenditure.

The action plan sets in motion the three goals identified under the Roadmap for Recovery of Cambodia Tourism during and post Covid-19, which was launched on March 30, 2021, said Soken during American Chamber of Commerce’s event themed “Where is Cambodia’s Tourism Industry Heading?” on September 26.

The roadmap identifies four essential pillars for the industry, comprising cultural heritage, coastal tourism, eco-tourism and Cambodianess. Among the pillars, coastal tourism holds significant importance, given Cambodia’s breathtaking coastline, Soken shared.

The goal is to leverage Cambodia’s prestige and resilience by positioning it as a leading global destination filled with rich diversity, bountiful opportunities and genuine warm-heartedness.

“To achieve this vision, the ministry has planned to revise and update our regulatory documents and organisational structures to achieve the appropriate efficiency in human and financial resources. These efforts align with our three strategic goals – competitive tourism, sustainable tourism and inclusive tourism – supported by the implementation of essential strategic actions,” he said.

To meet the goals, the action plan was introduced, which is based upon five strategic pillars that spell out the word ‘BUILD’. The acronym comprises “Brand management”, where focus is on creating awareness on priority target markets by promoting a positive understanding and recognition of Cambodia as a desirable global tourist destination, “Unique selling points [USP] marketing”, “Inbound design quality travel”, “Leverage tourism endowment and diversification” and “Develop competitive tourism sites”.

“We will prioritise three supporting areas, known as the 3Ds – Designing institutional structure, digital transformation and developing capability. In short, BUILD plus 3Ds serves as a fresh initiative in driving forward the performance of officials on every level in the ministry and enhancing our cooperation with various stakeholders at the sub-national, national and international levels,” Soken said.

This would lead to improved effectiveness and the harmonisation of collaboration with relevant ministries, institutions and other actors that share the responsibility of developing Cambodia’s tourism sector.

In doing so, three sets of priority actions have been identified. They involve strengthening institutional capacity and tourism governance, strengthening and expanding partnerships in tourism development; and promoting tourism development in terms of competitiveness, sustainability and inclusiveness, with the aim of realising the shared vision of driving economic growth and society progress.

“BUILD plus 3Ds would provide us with the much-needed strategic thrust for us to formulate short to long term actions to regain travellers’ confidence, adapt to the changing behaviour of travellers, while alleviating skill shortages and capitalising on digitalisation to promote structural transformation needed for Cambodia to be a destination that is competitive, resilient and inclusive.

“We should strengthen community cohesion, social networks and deepen our connection through evidence-based and informed decision-making [processes] as well as improved monitoring and evaluation mechanism to monitor progress on tourism recovery and resilience,” Soken said.

While Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Cambodia chapter chairman Thourn Sinan welcomed the ministry’s initiatives, he said the industry remains “relatively slow” in its progress to lure tourists compared to the inflow of tourists to neighbouring countries.

“We do want to see the policies which are in line with the action plan and the [roadmap] implementation. As of now, however, we are not attracting many foreign tourists. I hope that the relevant stakeholders – public and private sectors – join hands to promote the industry,” he urged.

According to data from the Ministry of Tourism, in the first eight months of 2023, Cambodia welcomed approximately 3.5 million international tourists, marking a significant increase of 250 per cent compared to the same period in 2022. The number of domestic tourists stood around 12.4 million, boasting a growth rate of 62.5 per cent.