Two Thai budget airlines have announced flights to Cambodia in a bid to spur bilateral tourism after the Covid-19 crisis, with one of them newly launching air links with the country, according to tourism ministry officials and representatives from the Kingdom’s main travel agent association.

The Ministry of Tourism on February 27 announced that Thai Smile Airlines will resume twice-weekly flights between Bangkok and Siem Reap from March 3. And Thai VietJet Air is working with Phaya Thai Hospital in Bangkok to serve health tourists from Cambodia, in a move announced by Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA).

The ministry called on tour operators and Cambodian residents to continue promoting tourism to Siem Reap through any means available to them. Home to the world famous Angkor Wat, the province and its namesake town is one of Cambodia’s most important cultural and historical destinations.

CATA president Chhay Sivlin said that compared to more standard carriers, the two budget airlines’ cheaper fares and more varied destinations within Cambodia will provide more diversified options for tourists who wish to visit elsewhere in the country apart from the capital Phnom Penh.

“We want to have as many flights as possible because there are so many types of guests, and sometimes they want to fly to Siem Reap [directly] to avoid spending a lot of time travelling there by other means, for example from Phnom Penh. We hope these two flights will allow a wide range of guests to visit Cambodia, both for business and for tourism,” she told The Post.

In the second meeting of the Executive Working Group for the Assessment and Management of Safe Tourism Destinations in Siem Reap Province on February 24, Minister of Tourism and chairman of the government working group Thong Khon spoke with private sector representatives about ways to restore and prop up the Cambodian tourism sector during and after the Covid-19 crisis.

Chief amongst the topics discussed was the inter-ministerial assessment and recognition of Siem Reap as a safe tourism destination, in which the provincial administration was lauded for its effective implementation of the government’s measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the lead-up to the destination’s reopening to tourism and resumption of international flights.

Chhun Makara, director of the ministry’s Travel Agency, Transport and Tourism Guide Department, told The Post that it was necessary to appoint an executive working group to manage the safety of the province and instil confidence in tourists, given that Siem Reap is a major tourist destination in Cambodia.

He said that in addition to Siem Reap, the tourism ministry has also set up a similar executive working group in Preah Sihanouk province – another location which has notable international flight connections.

“For Preah Sihanouk, we are organising a series of meetings to discuss challenges that we might need to address. Now that the province has improved its vaccination rates and health measures are implemented more effectively, we can focus on other [tourism-related] issues in these meetings,” Makara said.

Since the government announced the reopening of the country in mid-November, there have been 326 international flights to Cambodia in the period up to January 31 – up nearly 20 per cent from the same time a year before, according to the ministry. However, it noted that the number of tourists visiting Cambodia has still been less than it had hoped for.