International arrivals to Cambodia are expected to rebound back to their 2019 peaks by 2025, as the tourism industry emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic disruptions and pains that drove down the number of foreign visitors down by 97 per cent, according to a senior Ministry of Tourism official.

Cambodia logged an all-time record 6,610,592 foreign tourists in 2019 – rising by 6.6 per cent over 5,602,157 a year earlier – which plummeted by 80.2 per cent to 1,306,143 in 2020 as Covid-19 hit, and a further 85.0 per cent to 196,496 in 2021.

Ministry of Tourism secretary of state and spokesman Top Sopheak told The Post on January 24 that amid the sharp decline in international tourism over 2020-2021, the ministry is working hard to promote the tourism potential of Cambodia to the world and draw in foreign travellers and investors to Cambodia, through local and international events and other initiatives.

“Cambodia predicts that by 2025 at the latest, we will be able to restore the tourism industry to its original state, as before the arrival of Covid-19,” he said.

“We have a clear strategic plan and are implementing it every day.”

The tourism sector plays a crucial role in job creation and increasing income for the national economy, Sopheak added.

Pacific Asia Travel Association (Pata) Cambodia chapter chairman Thourn Sinan acknowledged the merits of the plans and strategies rolled out by the ministry and broader government to safeguard the tourism sector during Covid and prepare for the post-pandemic era.

But with the global health crisis still unfolding, it may be premature to generate confident estimates for the number of tourism arrivals, he opined.

“Without a complete end to Covid-19, there will still be people out there without the confidence to travel abroad.

“To gauge whether Cambodia’s tourism sector will be able to achieve this forecast [for 2025] or not, we’ll have to wait and see how it’s doing in 2022 and 2023 first, and whether or not the shock of the fallout from Covid-19 has died down.

“If Covid-19 remains a threat, I think 2025 would seem too early. For me, it wouldn’t be until 2027 that the tourism sector could feasibly return to 2018-2019 levels,” Sinan said.

Cambodia on January 16-22 hosted the ASEAN Tourism Forum 2022 (ATF 2022), which saw the participation of more than 500 people, including regional and global tourism leaders, international guests, and national and international journalists.

Sinan said the “success” of the forum will greatly contribute to the promotion of Cambodia’s tourism potential to regional and global travel industry leaders and holidaymakers, and provide them with confidence and peace of mind.

Sopheak insisted that ATF 2022 confirmed to the world: “Cambodia is one of the safest tourist destinations in the ASEAN region.”

In 2019, a total of $4.919 billion was gained from tourism receipts, up by 12.4 per cent from $4.37 billion in 2018, according to the ministry.