The Post speaks to the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents on how the once bustling tourism sector will recover after the Covid-19 outbreak.
After a turbulent start to this year due to the coronvirus outbreak, Cambodia’s tourism market is set to pick up in early 2021.
The Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (Cata) forecasts the Kingdom’s tourism sector will begin recovering in three stages – starting with domestic travellers.
The Kingdom has seen a steep decline in international visitors since the Covid-19 outbreak. Arrivals at Cambodia’s three major airports almost halved in the first quarter of the year, to just 1,299,12 international tourists, a sharp 48.9 per cent decline over the same period in 2019, according to the Ministry of Tourism.
Siem Reap International Airport, which draws in visitors from across the globe to see the fabled Angkor Wat complex, saw a drastic 58.8 per cent drop in tourist arrivals during the same period – falling to just 663,641 from 1,299,122, according to official data.
Meanwhile, Angkor Archaeological Park reports that only 654 people bought tickets to visit the historic site last month, a staggering 99.65 per cent drop from the 185,403 who did so in April 2019.
Cata is working to mitigate the losses in business by appealing to domestic tourists until air travel returns to the same levels as prior to the outbreak, according to the association’s president Chhay Sivlin.
“This strategy poses a few challenges for travel agencies on its own. The challenges include the fact that since it is within the country, local tourists can simply visit [destinations] themselves, without the need for travel agencies where service charges will be added,” Sivlin told The Post.
She added that the Ministry of Tourism-mandated 10 per cent value added tax also presents a challenge to attracting domestic tourists as they can book accommodation and visits to attractions more cheaply themselves.
Cata, founded in 1996 with the intention of strengthening the local tourism sector, represents 255 travel agencies across the Kingdom.
Cambodia’s tourism industry grossed $4.92 billion last year, according to official figures, accounting for some 12.5 per cent of GDP.
Sivlin said the organisation’s members are facing a staggering 95 per cent drop in revenues since February – almost crippling the once bustling industry that has been a key revenue generator for the nation.
Now industry players predict that it could take up to four years for the tourism industry to fully recover.
“We can foresee the initial recovery starting in 2021 as we expect tourists from neighbouring countries to start flowing in. The next step would be the arrival of Chinese tourists, which is our biggest expectation due to the large market size. The Chinese market could be the one to help us recover the tourism industry faster,” said Sivlin.
Chinese tourists topped the list of nationalities to visit Cambodia in 2019, with nearly 265,000 having travelled to Cambodia in the first quarter of last year.
Sivlin said the sector is hoping for assistance from the government including tax breaks to help weather the storm.
“At the moment, our members are gravely affected and suffering at their lowest point because, unlike the food and beverage industry, which is still surviving, the tourism industry has been reduced to [almost] zero business.
“The government has encouraged reducing rental rates; however, no serious measures have been taken to ensure these instructions are to be seriously followed through by landlords and those renting out spaces, buildings or offices.
“The previous year’s audits by the General Department of Taxation on tourism companies also puts a big burden on us,” she said.