International tourists with proof of Covid-19 vaccination in the fourth quarter (Q4) of this year could be allowed into Siem Reap province’s Angkor Archaeological Park even within 14 days of arrival to Cambodia, amid tentative government plans to ease its quarantine policy, according to Minister of Tourism Thong Khon on April 7.

Khon said Prime Minister Hun Sen had given him the green light to start discussions with the Ministry of Health’s Ad-hoc Commission for Covid-19 Vaccination, other relevant ministries and institutions, provincial administrations and the private sector to study the feasibility of the proposal.

Advocating for the move, Khon pointed out that the Kingdom was ramping up its vaccination drive for civil servants, the tourism community and other sectors, and that management at the temple complex was “top-notch”.

This comes just a week after Hun Sen on April 1 formally approved a 2021-2025 three-phased national tourism roadmap and a 2021-2035 Siem Reap provincial tourism development master plan to navigate the sector’s emergence from the Covid-19 pandemic and support its recovery.

Cambodia Association of Travel Agents president Chhay Sivlin welcomed Khon’s proposal, voicing optimism that it could speed up recovery of an industry reeling from a more than a year-long battle with the health crisis.

She told The Post on April 8 that the move and overall return of international tourists would not only bring back incomes and jobs to the sector, but be a testament to Cambodia’s success in managing the pandemic. “We really want the sector to resume as soon as possible.”

But with the tourism industry in such a long-term lull, she called on the government to announce the easing of travel restrictions as early as possible, to allow the private sector to timely reorganise its human resources in response.

According to the Chhay Sivlin, the Cambodian tourism sector will need at least another five years to rebound and once again enjoy 2019-levels of international visitors.

But Pacific Asia Travel Association Cambodia chapter chairman Thourn Sinan cautioned that to ensure stakeholders’ trust in the Kingdom, any relaxing of containment measures must be accompanied with a clear set of conditions that limit the transmission of Covid-19.

He listed the types and dates of vaccinations, entry restrictions for unvaccinated locals to the Angkor area, reductions in quarantine periods and potential obligations for visitors as considerations for terms in future measures.

“To ensure success and gain the trust of all stakeholders, the Ministry of Tourism must work with the Ministry of Health and establish a Code of Conduct for tourists in the Siem Reap-Angkor area,” Sinan said.

Khmer Angkor Tour Guide Association president Khieu Thy said that while a reopening of the Siem Reap tourism sector is what industrial players want, inoculations must continue across the province to earn the trust of tourists.

But the road to recovery will be long and arduous. Tourism ministry statistics show that the Kingdom welcomed 1,306,143 international visitors in 2020, cratering 80.2 per cent from 6,610,592 in 2019.

The latest figures show that foreign visitors spent $4.91 billion in tourism receipts in 2019, an increase of 12.4 per cent over $4.37 billion in 2018.

And as the health ministry report mounting coronavirus infections, prospects for a quick recovery in 2021 for the Kingdom’s tourism sector have been dampened.

Thy said: “Due to concerns and an economy that is not yet very strong, I reckon there won’t be such a hefty share of foreign visitors to Cambodia, that’ll take a long time.”

Meanwhile, the vaccination of tour guides, hotel and guesthouse staff, drivers and other tourism professional is essential to boost tourist confidence, he said.