Cambodia and India have agreed to start direct flight connections and promote closer tourism exchanges and cooperation in all areas after the Covid-19 saga comes to a close.
The agreement was reached during a meeting between Cambodian Minister of Tourism Thong Khon and newly-minted Indian ambassador to Cambodia Devyani Uttam Khobragade on January 20 at the ministry.
Khon said the two countries have had a long history of cultural and religious ties, with scores of Cambodians enjoying religious tours to holy sites across India prior to the pandemic.
He asked the Indian government to reschedule religious tour packages after Covid-19 cases had been “completely brought under control” to foster active tourism cooperation.
Khobragade stressed that a direct air route connecting the two countries is one of her priorities and expressed her keenness to work with the ministry and others stakeholders to ensure its success.
She said: “I fully agree and support this initiative because it will bring a lot of benefits to the tourism sector, considering how young Indians nowadays really like these kinds of tourism tours.”
Khmer Angkor Tour Guide Association (KATGA) president Khieu Thy told The Post on January 21 that direct flights with the world’s soon-to-be most populous nation would be a boon for the Kingdom.
Visits to ancient Khmer temples remain all the rage among Indians, he said, noting how closely related the religions that inspired their construction are with those of India.
“The number of Indian tourists coming to Angkor Wat has increased every year and this will create more jobs for local people,” Thy said, not accounting for 2020.
However, he asserted that Indian visitors could be a tad more frugal, querulous and demanding, requiring extra attention. “Due to the class divisions of Indian society, most tourists consider themselves as deities who require the utmost care.”
Chan Sopheak, a Cambodian with several trips to India under his belt, said that while news surrounding Cambodia-India direct flights have been leaking for more than a year, nothing has yet to materialise – a fact he blames squarely on Covid-19.
Direct flights would make travel between the two countries faster and more affordable, he said, pointing out that a journey in bygone pre-Covid days would take at least six hours, depending on the country being transited – usually Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia or South Korea.
“A direct flight will not only save time and money, but will also help Cambodia reel in more tourists from India and its neighbouring countries,” Sopheak said.
With the impact of the coronavirus outbreak leading to a raft of flight cancellations, most trips from Cambodia to India now pass through South Korea, or transit in Singapore and then Dubai in the UAE, he said.
A memorandum of understanding between Cambodia and India that authorises the rights to operate a direct flight was signed back in 2002, according to Secretariat of State for Civil Aviation spokesman Sin Chansereyvutha.
According to a report from the tourism ministry, 1,286,074 international tourists visited Cambodia in the first 11 months of last year, down 78.2 per cent from 5,898,130 in the corresponding period in 2019.
Indians accounted for 12,869, marking an 80.2 per cent drop from the 65,077 tallied in the same period in 2019.