Hospitality industry insiders based in coastal Preah Sihanouk province are hailing two major ongoing tourism events in Sihanoukville as a “starting point” for a meaningful return of international travel to the Kingdom, following a two-year Covid-19-enforced hiatus.

The province is hosting the 9th Sea Festival – the first since 2019, before Covid-19 – from December 8-11 and the World-Bays Club’s 2022 World Congress to be held from December 8-14, the latter of which is expected to be attended by at least 130 international delegates from no less than 21 countries and territories.

Hang Reth, manager of The Moonflower Bungalows, a 30-unit accommodation in Sihanoukville’s Otres area, told The Post on December 8 that after the two-year Covid lull, his establishment now reaches full occupancy every weekend. He confirmed that this weekend would be no different.

He attributed this positive trend in guests to effective Covid-19 management nationwide, the opening of the Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway and a host of new infrastructure development projects.

Reth believes that the two events will bolster the accommodation and broader tourism industry, and pave the way for a significant uptrend in foreign visitors to Cambodia.

“From now on, we expect more foreign holidaymakers to make the journey to Cambodia. International tourists often pay more and stay longer than locals. Any such event could help promote Preah Sihanouk’s tourism potential,” he said, sharing that The Moonflower Bungalows currently charges $20-30 a night, versus the “more than $30” asked during darker Covid days.

By contrast, Pel Poeun, attendant at the White Boutique Hotel & Residences, a more expensive establishment also located in Otres, said that occupancy rates there are still limited despite the improvements in the Covid-19 situation.

He expects the two events to bump up occupancy rates at the hotel, especially of foreign guests, saying that they “will definitely help attract more international tourists to Cambodia, and big hotels are pinning hopes on foreign guests”.

Poeun shared that occupancy rates reached a high peak in October and have remained on a downtrend that he linked to the expressway, which soft-launched on October 1 as a free thoroughfare connecting Sihanoukville to the capital, until tolls were instated for the official opening on November 1.

For reference, rooms at White Boutique Hotel & Residences start at $70 a night, according to another staff member who declined to be named.

At a December 7 preparatory meeting for the events, Chuk Chumno, director of the Department of Tourism Product Development under the Ministry of Tourism, revealed that more than 130 international delegates had confirmed their attendance for the World-Bays Club’s World Congress, as noted by the ministry in a statement.

“The fact that there are so many international delegates is because leaders and delegates representing these bays acknowledge Cambodia’s efforts in organising [the congress], and that the Covid-19 situation in Cambodia has eased and is clearly under control,” Chumno was quoted as saying.

He revealed that the delegates represent 34 bays from 21 countries and territories, including Angola, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Israel, Japan, Morocco, Mozambique, the Philippines, Portugal, Senegal, South Korea, Spain, Turkey and Vietnam, as well as the French island of Martinique in the Caribbean.

Three additional “observer bays” – in Finland, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea – will also be represented, he added.

Addressing the meeting via video link, tourism minister Thong Khon highlighted that the two events provide a “very special” opportunity to showcase and promote Cambodia’s tourism products to an international audience, especially those in the four coastal provinces, according to the ministry statement.

“The coastal provinces are the most suitable to welcome tourists this season, and Cambodia has prepared and beautified these towns, beaches, islands, urban infrastructure, the expressway and a range of tourism services,” he said.

The minister drew attention to the sheer amount of people and media outlets that must be linked to the World-Bays Club, and hence the extensive associated networks he claimed could be effectively used as the equivalent of a team of marketing agencies to enlighten tourists about Cambodia’s offerings.

He suggested that a good trip to the Kingdom could translate into free promotion, especially of the top tourist attractions, and an uptick in visitors.

“This is a very special opportunity for Cambodian tourism.”