Preah Sihanouk province logged more than 710,000 national and international visitors for the three main days of the 9th Sea Festival from December 9-11, as reported by the local tourism department, which has been hailed as a promising sign of post-Covid-19 recovery for the broader Cambodian travel sector.

The annual festival – the first since 2019, before the Covid-19 crisis – is being held in the provincial capital Sihanoukville, in conjunction with the World-Bays Club’s 2022 World Congress from December 9-14 themed “Bays of Peace, Bays of Hope”.

The first edition of the Sea Festival was held in Sihanoukville in 2011 to mark the Cambodian bay’s induction into the World-Bays Club. Although it was cancelled in 2012 due to King Father Norodom Sihanouk’s passing, it has since 2013 rotated among the four coastal provinces – Preah Sihanouk, Koh Kong, Kampot and Kep.

The festival aims to underscore the tourism potential of the four provinces as well as draw attention to the conservation and preservation of the cultural and natural resources of the Kingdom’s coastal areas.

The Preah Sihanouk provincial Department of Tourism reported that 712,614 travellers visited the province during the three days – 708,533 national and 4,054 foreign. It did not account for the remaining 27.

Speaking to the Post on December 12, department head Taing Sochet Kresna hailed these rather impressive figures, expressing hope that December 12-14 would see similarly remarkable results.

He attributed the large number of expected visitors over the six-day period to the picturesque landscapes of the beaches and nature; satisfactory levels of service and safety; new infrastructure developments; and effective Covid management.

Nonetheless, he argued, the number of international visitors registered from December 9-11 was limited by China’s zero-Covid measures and other pandemic-related restrictions elsewhere, as well as fallout stemming from geopolitical turmoil.

“Although not too many international visitors came for the event, I’m optimistic that after this, Sihanoukville will receive more foreign tourists as well as international flights and cruise ships,” he said, while also predicting a nationwide uptick in international visitors following the Sea Festival and World-Bays congress.

Sochet Krisna shared that the Sea Festival featured concerts on the beach, trade fairs, food stalls and more, and showcased recent development projects.

Cambodia Association of Travel Agents adviser Ho Vandy remarked that the two tourism events serve to trumpet to the world the post-Covid progress made by the Kingdom’s tourism sector, and have been a “great way” to attract more international visitors.

“These events signal that the time for foreign tourists to travel to Cambodia – safely and comfortably – is upon us, and the reception is ready,” he enthused.

Ministry of Tourism statistics show that Cambodia welcomed nearly 1.576 million international visitors in the first 10 months of this year – up 991.13 per cent year-on-year but still down 70.24 per cent compared to the same period in the record-breaking year of 2019.

Of the January-October arrivals, 1.199 million or 76.06 per cent declared “holiday” as their purpose of visit, 321,180 or 20.38 per cent marked “business”, while 56,135 or 3.56 per cent indicated other motives.