Cambodia will continue to charge visa fees for foreigner visitors to Cambodia, even with a flurry of requests from industry insiders petitioning the government to drop them in hopes of reviving international tourism from its Covid-19 slump.
Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the decision on February 1 while presiding over a ceremony commemorating the groundbreaking of the Bakheng Water Production Facilities and the inauguration of the Chamcar Mon Water Production Facilities.
He explained that growth of revenue from visa fees is conducive to national development and that scrapping them without a viable alternative would be ill-advised.
Such fees are not exclusive to Cambodia, he noted, adding that some developed countries such as France charge international visitors even larger sums to enter the country.
“In France, they take in a more-than-$100 fee for each visa and they [foreigners] end up going there, but for us it’s $30 – why is it that they cannot come?”
“That’s why I don’t agree with any of the requests for Cambodia to stop charging visa fees as a gesture to entice tourists. I don’t agree, so it’s all kaput – Cambodia still has no alternative” for revenue generated from visa fees, Hun Sen said, pointing out its non-tax revenue classification.
With 6.6 million international visitors to the Kingdom in 2019 prior to Covid-19, he noted that Cambodia reeled in “up to about $180 million” in income from visa fees that year.
The prime minister, however, voiced willingness to drop the fees if a feasible alternative source of revenue from the tourism sector is available.
The Kingdom welcomed just 1.31 million international visitors last year, cratering 80 per cent from 2019 due to Covid-19, according to Minister of Tourism Thong Khon.
Cambodia Association of Travel Agents president Chhay Sivlin told The Post on February 2 that any form of tourism incentive that centres on encouraging a return in international visitors to the Kingdom is crucial at this time.
Tightened travel restriction measures around the world have scotched hope of a quick recovery for the industry, she said. “Without the proper motivation, I don’t expect tourism to recover much in 2021.”
She encouraged the government to ease travel restrictions concerning document requirements, quarantine procedures and deposits for Covid-19 service charges, as well as to work with countries that are perceived to have managed the Covid-19 crisis well and set up travel bubbles.
Khmer Angkor Tour Guide Association (KATGA) president Khieu Thy said a visa fee waiver is necessary to provide the industry a firm foothold and should be offered as soon as a replacement source of income is secured.
“I hope the waiver of visa fees will be a boon once other sectors can generate more revenue, especially for countries that have strong tourism relations with Cambodia,” he said.
Even if a waiver cannot be granted to nationals of every country, Thy suggested starting the scheme with countries that have a high number of visitors to Cambodia, listing China, India, the US, Canada and those in the EU as examples.
He pointed out that visitors from ASEAN countries are not required to pay the non-refundable, non-transferable visa application fee.
Cambodia welcomed 6.61 million international tourists in 2019, marking a 6.6 per cent surge from 2018’s 6.20 million, ministry data show.
The Kingdom earned $4.91 billion in international tourism receipts in 2019, up 12.4 per cent from $4.37 billion in 2018.