The tourism ministry has called on business owners and service providers not to raise prices during the upcoming Khmer New Year holidays to allow tourists to enjoy the traditional holiday after two years of postponements brought upon by the Covid-19 outbreak in Cambodia.

Minister of Tourism Thong Khon signed Circular No 003 on March 28, instructing departments of Tourism in the capital and provinces to advise businesses not to increase their service prices over the holidays, from April 14-16, after the departments observed that price gouges had been happening during the festive seasons since Cambodia reopened for tourism, which he says has “severely affected” the sector.

“Generally, in terms of prices, we always advise businesses to be clear on prices on accommodation and food. If there is a list of dishes at the restaurant, for instance, the price of the food should be known to the guests … there must be an agreement between customers and business owners,” said Khon.

The circular states that tourism departments must promote the consistent and strict implementation of measures set by the government to prevent the spread of Covid-19, especially the “three do’s and three don’ts” measures as the Kingdom adapts to a “new normal” while maintaining business stability and ensuring the safety of tourists.

The “three do’s” – also called the “three protections” – are to wear a face mask, wash hands frequently, and keep a safe distance from other people (usually defined as 1.5m). The “three don’ts” are to avoid confined and enclosed spaces, stay away from crowded places, and refrain from touching others.

Khon called for tourism departments to cooperate with local authorities to ensure site safety, especially in complying with health measures, tourism safety and minimum standard operating procedures (SOP).

He said that local tourism departments must strengthen the enforcement of health protocols at tourism destinations, especially to determine and enforce the maximum capacity of a site and practice safe distancing. All staff must also be vaccinated.

Khon added that the tourism departments must cooperate with traders and businesses to “strengthen the quality of tourism, maintain a clean environment and appropriate prices for products and services”. In particular, he reiterated that prices of food and other services in accommodations must be clearly stated to inform guests in advance to avoid hidden fees.

In case of discrepancies between publicised and charged fees, the business owner shall be liable to penalties according to applicable laws.

The departments are to set up working groups to bring the circular to the notice of private tourism-oriented businesses, and compile daily reports of tourist statistics at each destination which must be sent to the ministry.

However, Khon acknowledge that these price hikes have not been observed at every tourist destination, pointing to places in provinces such as Siem Reap and Preah Sihanouk which have conversely lowered their prices in a bid to attract tourists to visit during the Khmer New Year holiday.

Preah Sihanouk provincial tourism department director Taing Sochet Kresna affirmed Khon’s observation that tourism businesses in his province bucked the trend seen in the rest of Cambodia of rising prices, as they have largely declined to increase rates.

He noted that this was unlike the province’s tourism industry at its peak “two or three years ago”, where prices verged on exorbitant and rooms were fully booked due to a large influx of Chinese guests.

Sochet Kresna added that the practices of price regulation and clarity are not only to be practiced during the Khmer New Year, with the province aiming for “75 per cent compliance” on such practices.

He added that while distributing the circular, the tourism departments and other authorities have also been inspecting tourism businesses at the local level to advise them on ways to improve the quality of services.

“We have carried out inspections and distributed Circular No 003 to businesses, and have been guiding them before every festival regarding base prices and communicating them to guests. If they do not put a price tag [on goods and services] and guests complain, it will affect the businesses negatively … so we educated them on these good practices,” he said.