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Ministry mulls ASEAN+3 travel bubble

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The Kingdom welcomed 1.26 million international tourists in January-October last year, down 76.1 per cent from 5.29 million in the first 10 months of 2019. Heng Chivoan

Ministry mulls ASEAN+3 travel bubble

The Ministry of Tourism plans to launch a travel bubble allowing transit between Cambodia and 12 other regional countries in a bid to resuscitate the tourism sector amid crushing impact of the ongoing spread of Covid-19, Ministry of Tourism spokesman Top Sopheak told The Post on January 10.

He defined a “travel bubble” as a special travel package that aims to bridge movement between those countries that have “clear control of the coronavirus” and have had “no major outbreaks”.

“This is a strategic plan and a policy of the Ministry of Tourism – we are studying the possibility of forming a travel bubble with ASEAN countries, and those in ASEAN Plus Three, which also includes Japan, South Korea and China.

“And through the study, we’ve observed that we can do this. But at the moment, we can’t do anything yet. We are now working more closely with the Ministry of Health to streamline and clarify [the terms of the] travel bubble.

“We must prepare the procedures with the Ministry of Health, and we’ll have to do that carefully because once it’s all set in stone, we’ll have to sign memorandums of understanding with companies and travel agencies that delineate what kinds of aircraft tourists can arrive on, the names of [authorised] airlines, the hotels at which they can stay and [suggestions for] restaurants and tourism sites to visit,” Sopheak said.

The ASEAN Plus Three countries are Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.

Pacific Asia Travel Association Cambodia chapter chairman Thourn Sinan welcomed the travel bubble, saying it would bring a touch of positive energy into the roiling sector.

He said: “The launch of the travel bubble initiative is very important as it’ll be able to reorient tourism and adapt it to a world with a ‘new normal’.

“Introducing one with our neighbours and China, Korea and Japan will help the tourism sector, although not much, but at least we’ll have some tourism flow.”

While Sopheak admitted that the exact timeframe of the travel bubble’s launch had not been determined, he stressed that the tourism and health ministries were hard at work thrashing out the details and ensuring that risk to tourists is minimised.

He said: “Right now, besides working with the Ministry of Health, we are also working with the private sector because we have to be very meticulous and bear in mind that some countries around the world have [introduced travel bubbles] a step ahead of us.

“But they’ve been closed and reopened following a resurgence of the pandemic, so we’re still monitoring the development of Covid-19 before we start.”

To date, the Cambodian government has introduced seven rounds of stimulus measures for the aviation and tourism sectors aimed at stabilising businesses and easing their financial burdens during Covid-19.

From January-October last year, Cambodia welcomed 1.26 million international tourists, representing a 76.1 per cent nosedive from the 5.29 million logged in the corresponding period of 2019, the tourism ministry reported.

Of that, 734,309 visitors touched down at the Kingdom’s three international airports, down 80.2 per cent year-on-year, while 533,581 arrived by land and waterways, down 66.3 per cent year-on-year.

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