Industry insiders have expressed concern about the challenges of the recovery in the tourism industry due to the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant, which is spreading across the world at an unprecedented rate, undermining hopes for a meaningful uptick in international tourists in 2022.
In 2021, international tourists reached 196,495, marking an 84.96 per cent drop from 1,306,143 a year earlier, of which air, land and inland waterway arrivals stood at 99,829 (down 86.8 per cent), 96,478 (down 80 per cent) and 188 (down 99.6 per cent), tourism ministry data show.
Thailand emerged as the top source of tourists at 81,844, down by 61.2 per cent, followed by mainland China (45,775, down 86.1 per cent) and Vietnam (22,120, down by 87.9 per cent).
The ministry listed other major sources as the US, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan, France, Malaysia and Japan.
Pacific Asia Travel Association (Pata) Cambodia chapter chairman Thourn Sinan told The Post on January 6 that the whopping more-than-80 per cent drop in international tourists was not an uncommon phenomenon, with many countries suffering similar blows in 2021.
But after the government moved to allow the full-scale resumption of socio-economic activities in mid-November and kicked off an international tourism relaunch scheme that opened the doors to fully-jabbed travellers, it remains to be seen if tourism can return to a positive trajectory in 2022, he said.
Still, the influence of Omicron is gradually shattering the hopes of a substantial recovery in the Cambodian tourism sector this year.
“The number of people infected with the Omicron variant every day – especially in the US and Europe – is raising serious concerns for those in the tourism sector, even though Cambodia is open to welcome them.
“In addition, airlines’ continuing cancellation of flights is also an obstacle for those wishing to travel to Cambodia,” Sinan said.
However, he said collaboration between ASEAN and other countries such as China and India to facilitate would be an important contribution to reviving the overall sector.
The Cambodian tourism sector will continue to be at risk from the effects of the Covid-19 crisis in 2022, which will require government attention and assistance in the form of tax breaks, legal facilitation and other support, he said.
“Cambodia’s tourism sector, from tourism companies to travel agencies, restaurants and hotels, they really need more support from the government,” Sinan said.
Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (Cata) president Chhay Sivlin said international visitors to the Kingdom remain limited despite tourism relaunch initiatives.
The advent of the new Omicron coronavirus mutation is putting the global tourism sector’s dreams of international tourist arrivals on hold, she lamented.
“Given the situation, the tourism sector really needs the help of governments to be able to support itself, and be ready to receive guests again once Covid-19 is completely under control,” she said.
However, Sivlin emphasised that the tourism sector is expected to gradually improve from mid-2022 onwards.