Foreign tourist arrivals in Cambodia cratered by nearly 84.96 per cent last year, extending a decline triggered by the Covid-19 crisis, which brought international travel to a screeching halt and crushed the tourism industry for the past two years.
But 2022 marks the year that tourism embarks on the recovery path, as the Kingdom positions itself as a safe destination for travellers, Ministry of Tourism spokesman Chuk Chumno told The Post on February 2.
The number of foreign tourists visiting Cambodia plunged from 1,306,143 in 2020 to just 196,495 in 2021, which marks a nearly 97.03 per cent drop from the all-time peak of 6,610,592 in 2019, ministry data released on February 1 showed.
By a wide margin, Thailand was the main source market for inbound tourists, with 81,844, representing a 61.2 per cent year-on-year decline, followed by mainland China (45,775; down 86.1 per cent), Vietnam (22,120; down 87.9 per cent), Indonesia (8,410; down 42.3 per cent), the US (6,535; down 88.3 per cent), South Korea (6,535; down 89.1 per cent).
A total of 25,276 tourists, or 12.86 per cent, came from other countries and territories.
The ministry spokesman remarked that Covid has vexed the travel industry for more than two years, prompting many countries to close their borders to inbound visitors.
“Naturally, the number of foreign tourist arrivals significantly dropped last year, with the spread of Covid-19 preventing some counties from fully reopening their doors to tourists,” Chumno said, noting that domestic tourism fared far better, recording a 35 per cent decline last year compared to 2020.
Despite the lingering presence of the coronavirus, the ministry has laid out many tourism development policies and roadmaps to establish the Kingdom as a safe place for sightseers, he said.
“With the high rates chalked up by our Covid-19 vaccination rollouts, we could be very close to herd immunity, and that allowed us to move towards the full resumption of socio-economic activity last year, permitting jabbed tourists to visit the country.
“That’s why we saw the number of foreign tourists increase in the fourth quarter of last year,” Chumno added.
Ministry figures indicate that international tourist arrivals in October-December reached 64,821 – accounting for 32.99 per cent of the annual total – up by 122.65 per cent from 29,114 in the previous three-month period.
Thourn Sinan, chairman of Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Cambodia chapter, pointed to generally positive signs of recovery in the industry since the government in November announced a broad shift towards the revival of the economy.
“The industry outlook hinges on the spread of Covid-19, but our high vaccination rates bear very positive connotations for the industry nonetheless. I do hope the industry will grow progressively better than last year, even if not at such a rapid pace as in 2019,” he told The Post on February 2.
Chumno hailed Cambodia’s hosting of the 40th ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF 2022) last month as a significant milestone and a resounding success, noting that no one tested positive for the coronavirus during or after the major international event.
“I believe that 2022 will be an exceptional year for the industry, following our declaration that we are a safe place for tourists,” the ministry spokesman said.
Outbound Cambodian tourists dropped by 90.6 per cent year-on-year to 30,517 in 2021, and international tourist departures fell by 86.6 per cent to 183,608, ministry data show.
Last year, international tourist arrivals by air recorded a sharp 86.8 per cent drop, and the number of those entering through land or ferry ports of entry plummeted by 82.4 per cent.