A memorandum of understanding (MoU) on Cambodia-Sri Lanka Tourism Cooperation has been signed, which tourism industry experts say paves the way for joint development of the sector.
The MoU was signed by Minister of Tourism Thong Khon and Chaminda Colonne, Sri Lankan ambassador to Cambodia with residence in Bangkok, on May 10 at the Ministry of Tourism.
With this MoU, the two sides agreed to start work on major tasks including boosting tourism flows, improving flight routes and setting up of religious tourism events.
Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Cambodia chapter chairman Thourn Sinan said that, with Sri Lankan cooperation, the Kingdom is taking a decisive step in attracting and promoting tourism in support of the sector, which continues in both countries to be affected by Covid-19.
He also praised Sri Lanka’s commitment to boosting tourism despite ongoing anti-government protests, which have led to unrest within the country.
“It’s good for both countries to spur tourism in spite of Sri Lanka facing an internal crisis. I still see an expansion of opportunities to boost the tourism sector in the future, as both countries practice Buddhism. In addition, we have a good history [of bilateral ties].
“The fact that Cambodia continues to expand cooperation with other countries is a good thing as we are strengthening relations with other countries through it,” he said.
During the MoU signing, Khon highlighted that Cambodia has already lifted a number of requirements to facilitate the travel of tourists, such as the PCR test, and rapid testing upon arrival, as well as reinstated its visa-on-arrival programme.
The minister said that the country is “ready” to welcome pre-pandemic levels of tourists. “Overall, Cambodia is ready to welcome more tourists again.”
He also suggested increased lobbying of flight operators for a direct shuttle between Cambodia and Sri Lanka. Currently, visitors from the South Asian country must transit in Thailand, Malaysia or Singapore before continuing on to Cambodia.
The two sides also agreed to organise tourism events related to Buddhism as both countries follow similar Buddhist practices. Khon noted that tourism studies have indicated Cambodians’ preference to visit other countries that also practice Buddhism, such as Sri Lanka and India.
Cambodia has had experience organising Buddhism-related tourism events. Notably, in 2011, the Kingdom jointly organised a civilisation event with Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, according to the tourism ministry.
Khon also informed the Sri Lankan ambassador that he has been working with the Ministry of Cults and Religions to revive the plan of setting up model tourism pagodas throughout the country, with at least two such pagodas in each province to lure more national-international tourists.
He requested that the working groups of both sides meet every three months to work on the tasks set out in the MoU, a schedule Colonne agreed to.
According to figures from the tourism ministry, Cambodia welcomed only 198 tourists from Sri Lanka in 2021, a 77 per cent fall from 864 in 2020.