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Indonesia flights set for return?

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Tourism minister Thong Khon (right) shakes hands with Indonesian ambassador Sudirman Haseng during the handover of an MoU on bilateral tourism cooperation, on June 24. TOURISM MINISTRY

Indonesia flights set for return?

Tourism minister Thong Khon has asked Indonesia to push for the resumption of direct flights to Cambodia as soon as possible to build up bilateral tourism flows, the tourism ministry said, after Indonesian arrivals to the Kingdom ballooned by nearly 600 per cent year-on-year in the January-April period.

According to a June 24 ministry statement, Khon made the request at a meeting with Indonesian ambassador Sudirman Haseng, on behalf of tourism minister Sandiaga Uno, in which Sudirman handed over to Khon a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on bilateral tourism cooperation signed via video link at the January 16-22 ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) 2022 hosted in Preah Sihanouk province.

The minister praised Indonesia for its “important” role in the international arena vis-a-vis the Covid-19 crisis and Ukraine conflict, and as host of last year’s G20 summit and upcoming ATF 2023 and ASEAN Summit 2023.

He also noted that 2022 marks the 63rd anniversary of diplomatic relation between the two countries – established on February 13, 1959 – and wished for stronger relations and a deeper friendship, distinguished by increased and broader tourism and cultural promotion initiatives.

Khon asked Sudirman to “help encourage direct flights between Cambodia and Indonesia as soon as possible, in accordance with the spirit of the MoU”.

The ambassador in turn thanked the ministry for its continued support of the bilateral tourism and cultural promotion agenda organised by his embassy, and vowed to maintain and promote relations between the two ASEAN countries in tourism development, according to the statement.

Sudirman said that the embassy, as outlined by the MoU, has organised a basic training course on halal tourism for Cambodian tourism ministry officials to ensure attractive, Muslim-friendly travel experiences to the Kingdom for Indonesians or other foreigners who adhere to the Islamic faith.

Meanwhile, tourism ministry undersecretary of state Katoeu Mohammad Nossry visited Medan, Indonesia for the “Cambodian Tourism Roadshow – Visit Cambodia NEXT as a Safe, Warm, Clean and Green Tourism Destination” held from June 21-25.

At the event on June 22, Nossry highlighted opportunities in the Cambodian tourism sector and asked the private sectors in both countries to do their part to promote stronger bilateral relations and cooperation, including selling tours to the Kingdom in Indonesia and advertising the return of the visa-on-arrival programme and the rollback of Covid-19 restrictions for entries and during visits.

He also called on them to promote upcoming sports events set to be hosted by Cambodia, such as the 2023 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games and 2023 ASEAN Para Games, as well as the Asian Youth Games 2029.

Nossry’s comments were well-received by the North Sumatra provincial government and Indonesian travel agencies, while Singapore Airlines and some agencies were keen to work together towards the resumption of direct flights between Cambodia and Indonesia.

The ministry expects a meaningful uptick in inbound Indonesian holidaymakers and investors in the 2022-2023 phase of tourism recovery, dubbed “Cambodia – Kingdom of Wonder, Safety and Warmth”.

Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Cambodia chapter chairman Thourn Sinan told The Post on June 26 that there had historically been few direct flights between the two countries, and that their frequency increased slower than expected, despite Phnom Penh’s best efforts to spur travel from the archipelago nation.

Still, Sinan stressed the importance of direct air routes to a nearby country with such huge potential as a tourism source market and massive population – estimated at 279 million on June 26 by Worldometers.info.

He pointed out that Vietnam has been more successful in drawing in visitors from ASEAN’s largest economy, and suggested that Indonesian travellers to the Kingdom enjoy visits to ancient temples and large urban spaces, with a small share interested in the casino and gaming scene.

According to the tourism ministry, Cambodia welcomed 81,939 international arrivals in January-April, up by 586.4 per cent year-on-year. Of those, 4,089 or 4.99 per cent were from Indonesia, marking a 579.2 per cent rise over the same period in 2021.

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