Three Cambodian localities have clinched the ASEAN Clean Tourist City Award for 2022-2024, underscoring their allure as travel hotspots that provide a comfortable degree of Covid safety, as the Kingdom relaxes pandemic control measures for visitors who have taken the jab.

These were the towns of Battambang, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, according to a circular released by the Ministry of Tourism’s National Committee for Clean City Evaluation on January 17.

Siem Reap provincial Department of Tourism director Ngov Sengkak told The Post that the accolade was a source of pride and honour for the people of Siem Reap, and that the northern province had won the award thrice, in each of its three iterations.

Interestingly, reports from state media agency Agence Kampuchea Presse (AKP) indicate that Cambodia’s previous winners were: the capital’s Daun Penh district as well as Kampot and Takhmao towns for the 2020-2022 awards, and Battambang, Kep and Siem Reap towns for 2018-2020. This would suggest that Siem Reap town has only won twice.

AKP has also listed losing nominees as Kampong Cham, Kampong Chhnang and Pursat for 2020-2022, and Kampot, Kampong Cham, Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville for 2018-2020.

The committee did not reply by press time to The Post’s requests for clarification and list of this year’s nominees.

Either way, Sengkak is convinced that this latest victory was no coincidence, underlining that the people and officials at all levels have worked hard to fulfil the committee’s policies, which encompass a multitude of areas such as the environment, tourism safety, infrastructure, services and sanitation.

“We’ve complied with the relevant ASEAN standards that have been set and reviewed, and needless to say, in order to retain this title, we’ll carry on working with stakeholders to preserve and develop this cultural and historic town, to claim victory in the years to come,” he said.

Preah Sihanouk provincial Department of Tourism director Taing Sochet Kresna noted that its capital Sihanoukville was the province’s first locality to be honoured with the award.

This, combined with hosting the 40th ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF 2022), will earn fame for the coastal province, to appeal to ASEAN and other international travellers, he said.

“This forum is indispensable to show countries in ASEAN and around the world that Cambodia’s Preah Sihanouk province is a reopened tourist destination typified by quality, safety and sustainability, to give the green light for international travellers to go on a pleasure trip to the Kingdom, or elsewhere in the region,” Sochet Kresna said.

Pacific Asia Travel Association (Pata) Cambodia chapter chairman Thourn Sinan claimed that this year’s trifecta of victories would promote an image of the Kingdom that is more on par with regional and international peers.

“Cambodia is the courageous first country to host the large-scale ASEAN Tourism Forum – in 2022 – since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which substantiates that we’ve been able to handle the Covid situation since the government announced the reopening of the country,” he said.

He was referring to the government’s move in early November to allow a broader resumption of socio-economic activities, prompted by sustained downward trends in Covid-related metrics.

“Under these circumstances, we would not be so presumptuous as to set our expectations too high for the revitalisation of the sector, as Cambodia’s air connections are currently limited.

“But hopefully this indication of mastery over the ASEAN Clean Tourism City Standard [ACTCS] and hosting of the [ATF 2022] will further boost tourism growth down the road,” Sinan said.

The ASEAN Secretariat says the ACTCS aims to provide the bloc’s 10 countries with a core set of tools to raise the quality of tourism and enhance marketing competitiveness, while also alleviating poverty, improving the livelihoods of locals, protecting the environment and tackling climate change issues.

“The standard is based on a series of indicators that will evaluate how sustainable ASEAN cities currently are, the quality of the tourism they offer, and identify areas that can be improved.

“It will provide ASEAN member countries with benchmarks to aim for and ultimately lead to greater tourist satisfaction, greater numbers of visitors and better conditions for the local population,” it said in the ACTCS’ abstract.

And according to the national committee’s circular, the associated award serves to enhance the attractiveness and unlock the competitiveness of the bloc’s tourism-driven localities.

The decoration is also meant to improve the quality of tourism products and services, pursuant to the ASEAN Tourism Strategic Plan 2016-2025, and transform the bloc into a safe, inviting and cordial travel destination, it said.

It listed other 2022-2024 winners as: Tutong in Brunei; Luang Prabang, Pakse and Viengxay in Laos; George Town, Langkawi and Muar in Malaysia; Mandalay, Naypyidaw and Myeik in Myanmar; Baguio and Ilagan in the Philippines; Khon Kaen, Pattaya and Koh Mak in Thailand; and Halong, Dalat and Vung Tau in Vietnam.

All 10 ASEAN countries received at least one award, except for Indonesia and Singapore.