The Ministry of Tourism on December 24 floated plans to reopen Siem Reap province, the home of the world heritage Angkor Wat temple, in the “near future”, to welcome international tourists who have been fully-vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, after the nearly two-year-long crippling Covid-19 crisis.

These plans were discussed at a December 24 meeting, chaired by ministry secretary of state Song Tonghap, and attended by representatives of the Ministry of Health, the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA), the Siem Reap Provincial Authority and the Apsara National Authority (ANA).

ANA deputy director-general Long Kosal said inter-ministerial cooperation on safety management at the province’s tourist destinations is vital to reviving tourism to Angkor Archaeological Park, especially when it comes to organised tours and Covid-19 prevention.

The authority has spruced up infrastructure in the park and most preparations are ready for the return of jabbed international travellers, he said, pointing out that the area in front of Angkor Wat has changed a lot.

“The ANA team has incorporated some greenery at some temple sites, planting seedlings and new tourism products, such as some of the most diverse botanical gardens, bike paths, and a popular route for locals and tourists alike,” Kosal said.

Cambodia Association of Travel Agents adviser Ho Vandy said it was more essential now than ever that all tourism stakeholders work together to ensure that everything is ready and that the proper safeguards are in place for the return of international tourism, amid concerns over the Omicron variant of the virus.

“If Cambodia can address all of these concerns, launching direct flights back to the Kingdom will draw in greater numbers of tourists than its neighbours, because we are ready.

“The private sector will abide by the pertinent policies – as well as guidelines from additional consultations with government institutions – to prepare for the return of tourists, and properly implement the ‘three do’s and don’ts’ measures,” he said.

SSCA spokesman Sin Chansereyvutha said there is just one daily direct international flight to Siem Reap, from Singapore with an average of 60 passengers of 12-16 nationalities.

“If neighbouring countries continue their restrictions, our flight connections will also be affected, which could lead to the closure of flights,” he said.

As it gears up for international travellers next year, the province has been toiling away on infrastructure and other preparations, especially in Siem Reap town and the Angkor area, including the creation and improvement of parks, and the revamping of roads.