Prime Minister Hun Sen officially opened the 40th ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) 2022, with the eyes of the region on Cambodia as delegates from Southeast Asia descended on Sihanoukville on January 16.

The event showcased Preah Sihanouk province and the Kingdom as a top-notch travel destination and put a focus on regenerating the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) tourism industry after the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic as the region carefully opens up again to visitors.

The hosting at Sihanoukville’s Sokha Beach Resort of the most important regional event since the easing of Covid-19 restrictions comes with Cambodia having taken over as Chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year.

“On behalf of the Cambodian people and [government], I would like to express my gratitude to excellencies, ministers and leaders of ASEAN member states, leaders of the World Tourism Organization, ASEAN Tourism Association and national and international tourism companies for supporting Cambodia in organising the 40th ASEAN Tourism Forum 2022.

“As the Chair of ASEAN for the third time in 2022, Cambodia will promote, accelerate and harmonise efforts to revitalise all sectors to build a sustainable, inclusive and resilient ASEAN community after the COVID-19 crisis in line with the theme ‘ASEAN ACT – Addressing Challenges Together’.

“I wish that this forum will be fruitful and successful, and would like to wish all the delegates a safe, comfortable, joyful and memorable stay [in the coastal Preah Sihanouk province] of Cambodia – ‘the Kingdom of Wonder’ – which is a member of Most Beautiful Bays in the World Club,” the prime minister said in his opening speech.

The prime minister cuts the ribbon on the TRAVEX trade fair on January 19. Heng Chivoan

Guests at the opening ceremony were treated to a songs and cultural performances, such as the Apsara Dance of the Great Empire and Rumduol Flower National Dance, as well as a spectacular firework display.

The 40th ATF 2022, which ran from January 16-22 and was held under the theme “ASEAN – A Community of Peace and Shared Future”, was attended by more than 600 excellencies, ministers and tourism leaders of ASEAN Member States, leaders of the World Tourism Organization and ASEAN Tourism Association, and international guests.

And in his opening speech, Hun Sen called on Southeast Asia’s tourism ministers and health institutions to study and develop a common ASEAN-wide system for the certification of full vaccination – a Vaccination Passport or Digital Health Pass – for the region.

He also urged ASEAN to consider the gradual easing of travel restrictions with the highest levels of vigilance.

Resilient future

The 25th ASEAN Tourism Ministers Meeting, the 21st ASEAN Plus Three Tourism Ministers Meeting, the 9th ASEAN Plus India Tourism Ministers Meeting and the 1st ASEAN Plus Russian Federation Ministers Meeting saw a turnout of 100 in-person participants, while meetings with plus countries and dialogue partners were conducted through an online platform.

Tourism Ministers Meetings saw a turnout of 100 in-person participants. Heng Chivoan

With official ASEAN NTOs Meetings, Tourism Ministerial Meetings and Association Meetings, leaders discussed programmes and their implementation to foster the ASEAN Tourism Recovery for a more resilient future.

And ATF 2022 was more than just a physical event, in line with the current trend of complementing physical events with a digital experience.

The organisers provided delegates with a digital platform to organise additional business appointments with industry colleagues who were not able be physically present at TRAVEX, the annual ASEAN leisure travel trade fair showcasing the latest Southeast Asia travel experiences.

With 187 sellers, 40 buyers and 20 media companies involved, 322 guests from 27 countries were expected to attend the TRAVEX tourism expo.

Members of ASEAN saw record years in 2019, with tourism to Southeast Asia having created 30 million direct jobs and making up 10 per cent of the total GDP of the region before the Covid pandemic struck.

In 2020, the whole of ASEAN received only 25.96 million tourists, a drop of 80.5 per cent, while income from tourism fell by 75.8 per cent.

ATF 2022 showcased Cambodia as a first-rate travel destination. Heng Chivoan

In light of this, Cambodia’s hosting of ATF 2022 sought to safely reinvigorate the region’s travel industry as Covid restrictions cautiously ease, and Cambodian Minister of Tourism Thong Khon was optimistic that the ideals ASEAN stood for would ably facilitate this.

“ASEAN – Community of Peace and Shared Future” was selected as the theme in response to the current situation of the world and the region, which are facing the common challenge of the spread of Covid-19, while every member state has been implementing their own tourism development and recovery policies.

“This theme emphasises the shared vision of ASEAN, one which displays the needs to strengthen our solidarity and friendship in order to resolve issues.

“At this time, the presence of ASEAN tourism leaders reflects all these values which together will bring back the growth of tourism to the ASEAN people and its travel sector,” Khon said in his opening speech.