To ensure the success of plans to reopen the tourism market for international visitors, Cambodia must pay utmost attention to two primary determinants – the ongoing paradigm shift in domestic tourism services towards the ‘new normal’, and the factors influencing choices of destinations among foreign holidaymakers.
This is what Minister of Tourism Thong Khon told an internal review meeting on the progress of tourism work in 2021, held on September 15 via video link.
Also in attendance were officials of the Phnom Penh Municipal Administration and Department of Tourism, their provincial counterparts, and representatives of the private sector, as well as other stakeholders.
The minister underscored that international tourism had declined sharply during Covid, and that the industry is now entirely reliant on the domestic segment to stabilise its overall health and help drum up the economy.
For Cambodia to press ahead with plans to reopen its borders to international tourists, Khon stressed the need for a sustained downtrend in the number of new daily Covid-19 cases.
And to ensure that the process moves as smoothly and safely as possible, he identified two groups of decisive factors for stakeholders to ruminate over and address: internal and external.
“Internal factors allude to the readiness of tourism businesses, which is predicated on coping with the ‘new normal’ in all supply chains for the tourism sector,” Khon said.
The minister emphasised that a heightened level of focus on all components and systems directly involved in the upstream and downstream flows of products remains a key priority.
These encompass, among other things, infrastructure, transportation, a general rehabilitation, and the enforcement of standard operating procedures (SOP) and other safety rules, he explained.
Also factored in is the development of new and diverse tourism products and the redesign of existing ones to cater to post-Covid supply and demand conditions, along with the management of associated human resources, he added.
“External factors denote the psychological considerations and tendencies involved in the main decision-making processes of tourists in choosing tourism destinations and tour packages, for example, universal values such as cleanliness, hygiene and safety,” Khon specified.
He spelled out that ensuring sustainability in the tourism sector would require all stakeholders to embrace business models that can adapt to the new socio-economic realities of today.
The minister opined that tourism business models for the post-Covid era must seek to integrate digital tech into services, ensure hygiene and safety for tourists, build capacity to improve quality, boost productivity in preparation for more intense competition, narrower markets and shorter supply chains.
Ministry of Tourism spokesman Top Sopheak told The Post early this month that the ministry has been working hard towards reopening tourism, an arrangement “which may materialise by the end of this year, maybe November-December”.
“But the exact timeframe for once again opening up to receive tourists in any capacity cannot be confirmed in detail, please hang on a little longer,” he said.
Cambodia Association of Travel Agents president Chhay Sivlin told The Post that the tourism industry was eager for the Kingdom’s reopening to fully-vaccinated travellers, saying that the Covid-19 crisis had plunged the sector into a nearly two-year slump.
Prolonging the reopening not only costs Cambodia precious revenue, but also drives out much-needed professionals from the industry, she said.
But offering a silver lining, Sivlin pointed out that the Kingdom’s coronavirus vaccination campaigns and overall Covid situation are relatively stable.
“Opening the door to vaccinated international tourists will handsomely contribute to the economic growth of families, as well as the national budget,” she said.
Data from the Ministry of Health showed that as of September 15, a total of 11,506,197 people had received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, representing over 70 per cent of the Kingdom’s population of around 16 million.
From January-July, Cambodia received 112,544 international visitors, marking a steep decline of 90.6 per cent year-on-year, according to data from the tourism ministry.