The Ministry of Tourism on October 31 underscored two major initiatives to focus on in tandem with “Visit Cambodia Year 2023” to accelerate international tourism growth, and called on relevant parties to be actively involved and pursue options to raise the allure of the Kingdom.

These are: to champion local travel destinations at 10 international events set to be held in India, China, Japan, South Korea, ASEAN, Europe, or elsewhere; and drive forward the so-called “Cambodia as Sports Tourism Destination” campaign as the host of the 2023 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games and ASEAN Para Games, the ministry said in a notice.

It noted that the initiatives are in line with the 2020-2025 Roadmap for Recovery of Cambodia Tourism During and Post Covid-19, specifically the 2022-2023 Phase II (Recovery).

The ministry invited stakeholders “to actively participate and seize the opportunity to jointly promote Cambodia’s tourism destinations, as well as to increase the sales of Cambodia’s tourism packages in international markets”.

Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA) president Chhay Sivlin told The Post on November 2 that the tourism sector is gradually recovering, led by the domestic segment, after plunging to “near zero” levels for more than two years due to the Covid-19 crisis.

She noted that, prior to the pandemic, international tourism had been a key generator of national income as well as direct and indirect jobs.

Sivlin believes that the two latest initiatives to be spotlighted by the ministry are “really necessary to help foreigners know more about Cambodia and potentially convince them to visit.

“Cambodia is one of the best tourist destinations in the world,” she proclaimed, adding that a slew of entertainment venues are under renovation to draw in larger crowds.

However, injecting a note of realism, Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Cambodia chapter chairman Thourn Sinan remarked that geopolitical tensions between major powers have prevented the global tourism market from making the desired recovery, despite substantial improvements in the Covid situation.

“The world is currently fragmented and divided by many particularisms, creating a whole host of issues that weigh down on tourism.

“[Still,] I believe that the number of foreign tourists to Cambodia will increase in the beginning of 2023, compared to 2022. But from the middle to end of the year, that could be compromised should the global geopolitical and economic environment remain out of sync,” he said.

Sinan surmised that Cambodia’s tourism sector would gain some positive traction should Beijing end its “zero-Covid” policy soon, arguing that mainland China is a top source market for international tourists for Cambodia and long list of other jurisdictions.

In early September, the ministry unveiled an eight-pronged strategy aimed at raising the full-year numbers of international visitors to Cambodia and domestic trips nationwide to at least 7.5 million and 16 million by 2028, respectively.

The first four elements of the strategy are to: develop creative and innovative tourism products and services; upgrade the quality of tourism services in accordance with recognised standards; support training and upskilling among tourism professionals; and promote convenience and safety in tourism transport and mobility.

The remaining four are to: improve capacity building, research and promotion for Cambodian tourism; encourage the adoption of modern technologies in the field; launch more key policies to prop up tourism development; and step up tourism governance mechanisms and human resource development.

Cambodia welcomed nearly 1.266 million international visitors in the first nine months of this year – up 861.29 per cent year-on-year but down 73.71 per cent over the same period in 2019 – of which 946,125 or 74.75 per cent declared “holiday” as their purpose of visit, 270,910 or 21.40 per cent marked “business”, while 48,737 or 3.85 per cent indicated other motives.

Of note, if the number of international visitors for each remaining month this year is equal to or greater than the September figure, the full-year total would top 2.068 million, or 3.41 per cent more than the two-million upper bound of the estimated range offered by the ministry as recently as September.