Tourism players are brimming with enthusiasm about potential tailwinds for the embattled local industry, driven by the reinstatement and expansion of visa waiver schemes around the world and the global travel market’s return to full strength.
One major example is Vietnam, where the tourism ministry recently asked the government to resume visa exemptions for citizens of Cambodia and 23 other countries that had benefitted from the scheme prior to the Covid-19 crisis, according to state media.
Before Covid, tourists from Cambodia and most ASEAN countries could visit Vietnam visa-free for up to 30 days – 21 days for the Philippines and 14 days for Brunei and Myanmar – while Kyrgyz nationals were allowed to stay no longer than 30 days, and 90 days for those of Chile, Viet Nam News reported.
Similarly, visitors from Belarus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and the UK could stay visa-free for up to 15 days.
Moreover, Vietnam on February 15 was due to lift Covid-related curbs on all international passenger flights. The ministry has also proposed the full resumption of tourism activities on March 15, which includes conditionally reopening borders to fully vaccinated or previously coronavirus-positive foreign visitors, according to the government’s VGP news portal.
Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA) president Chhay Sivlin believes that Vietnam’s moves would prove a boon for the Cambodian tourism sector, now that the Kingdom’s Covid rules for fully jabbed international arrivals have been significantly relaxed.
She contended that the resumption of the neighbouring country’s tourism industry would prompt Vietnam Airlines – the national flag carrier which operates long-haul flights to Europe and the US – to open more routes and thereby motivate more passengers to add Cambodia and other Indochinese destinations to their itineraries.
“Needless to say, Cambodia does not have direct long-haul flights to European countries or the US. On the other hand, were Vietnam to launch another one, it’d have loads of aeroplanes in reserve – a diverse fleet of aircraft operated by the national flag carrier that could practically ferry passengers anywhere.
“Let them [travellers] go to Vietnam – they’re bound to come to Cambodia, which is easily accessible by multiple modes of transportation, including waterways, land and air,” Sivlin said.
Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Cambodia chapter chairman Thourn Sinan noted that sightseers visiting neighbouring countries such as Thailand and Vietnam quite often add Cambodia further down on their itineraries.
He suggested, however, that a greater number of flights connecting Cambodia to the world could sway a considerable proportion of travellers to the region to place the Kingdom higher on their list of priority destinations.
He argued that the number of natural and historical tourist sites in Vietnam falls behind Cambodia, which he said nicely positions the Kingdom to benefit from an easing in its neighbour’s travel rules for international visitors.
Sinan added that Vietnam sells more travel packages to Cambodia than Thailand does, reasoning that the communist-ruled country offers fewer tourism products than mainland ASEAN’s largest economy.
Even after Cambodia dialled back restrictions on fully vaccinated international arrivals, the private sector’s expectations for the tourism industry are mixed, amid concerns over the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant.