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PM’s vow to reopen reassures tourism sector, but no date set

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(From left to right) Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (Cata) president Chhay Sivlin, Cambodia Airports CEO Alain Brun, Cathay Pacific country manager Hamish Snow, and Cambodia Destination Management Co (CamDmc) consultant Nick Ray. THOU VIREAK

PM’s vow to reopen reassures tourism sector, but no date set

Tourism industry players insist the government announce a reopening date as soon as possible to prepare for the expected influx of international visitors into the Kingdom.

This was the main message highlighted during a press conference organised by Cambodia Airports on September 23, where industry representatives weighed in on Prime Minister Hun Sen’s comments on September 17 regarding a relaxation in quarantine measures to help smooth the reopening process.

The prime minister suggested a sandbox-like scheme – as seen in Thailand and Vietnam – where visitors are required to spend the first seven days of their trip in the general area of their accommodation, with inter-provincial travel expressly forbidden. But he stopped short of giving a firm timeframe.

Alain Brun, CEO of Cambodia Airports, the developer and operator of the Kingdom's three international airports, told the conference that Hun Sen’s comments were a dose of welcome news that marked a positive step for the service sector.

He called on the private sector to do its part and ensure that holidaymakers can safely travel across the Kingdom, enunciating: "We are lucky to do business in Cambodia.”

Brun elaborated that the Kingdom’s Covid immunisation drive over the past seven and a half months have been a success. “We are safe. The key message today is that the airline industry is all set to welcome back passengers, everyone is fully prepared".

Despite shouldering a substantial economic burden of Covid, Cambodia Airports maintained full operations throughout the swells and ebbs of the health crisis, he pointed out.

He underscored that Cambodia’s three international airports “are all in line with international safety standards” and “have clear measures to protect” everyone, with “rules applied effectively”.

“We guarantee that passengers will arrive at safe airports," Brun said.

"Travel today is safe in Cambodia, and that’s due to the amazing work the government has been doing. The airports are all ready to welcome back passengers.

Hamish Snow, country manager of Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd, told the event that the airline resumed full operations in July and stands ready to work with other businesses to bring back travellers to the Kingdom.

Cathay Pacific offers four direct flights a week between Phnom Penh and Hong Kong, he said.

"We use modern, environmentally-friendly aircraft and our staff observe the proper safety measures to ensure the safety of our passengers. To resume flights in the future, we need to work together to provide a safe experience for our passengers," Snow said.

Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (Cata) president Chhay Sivlin emphasised that travel agencies and other tourist retail outlets need a proper heads up from the government to plan more comprehensive tour packages and promotions.

With the winter holiday break around the corner, “we have to hurry and turn Cambodia into a suitable option as a tourist destination in Asia, where holidaymakers are looking for countries with milder conditions to travel to.

Cambodia Destination Management Co (CamDmc) consultant Nick Ray noted that a prompt reopening could position the Kingdom as a standalone destination, so long as the safety and welfare of tourists is guaranteed.

"We want a step-by-step reopening of the country from now until the beginning of next year, when we are to fully reopen, in time for Cambodia to host the ASEAN Tourism Forum [from January 16-22],” he said.

He noted that about 60 countries have reopened without requiring quarantine, calling on Cambodia to consider following suit.

"I believe that tourists would definitely choose a country that does not require quarantine stay, because tourists do not like it," said Ray, a long-time Lonely Planet author.

Cata’s Sivlin shared that Covid has led to the closure or suspension of about 3,000 tourism-related businesses, leading to some 60,000 workers being furloughed. These include hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, spas, massage parlours, travel agencies, adventure sport venues and karaoke clubs.

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