Nestled along the pristine shores of Cambodia, Kep province is preparing to host the eagerly awaited 10th Sea Festival, an event set to highlight the best of coastal life and culture.

The Ministry of Tourism announced that the event, themed “Tourism for All,” is scheduled for December 1-3. Marking Kep’s third time as host, the festivities will be presided over by Prime Minister Hun Manet, as confirmed by provincial governor Som Piseth.

Piseth noted that the provincial administration has worked closely with key ministries and institutions, with a particular focus on collaboration with the tourism ministry.

Centres for cooperation have been established to ensure the safety of the local populace, domestic and international tourists, as well as the security of the prime minister and his spouse, Pich Chanmony.

“The three-day Sea Festival is expected to attract no fewer than 100,000 guests. Factors contributing to this turnout include the prevailing peace and political stability we all enjoy in the Kingdom, as well as our effective measures against various infectious diseases, especially Covid-19,” Piseth told The Post.

“Health workers will be on duty to guide business operators and service providers, ensuring professionalism, orderliness, friendliness and integrity,” he added.

He emphasised that the provincial government has advised vendors and residents to enhance waste disposal practices, promoting responsible management to protect the environment.

The ministry has issued a comprehensive directive to the departments of tourism in the coastal provinces of Preah Sihanouk, Koh Kong, Kampot and Kep, emphasising the importance of ensuring a safe, welcoming and culturally rich experience for tourists.

The directive lays out several key guidelines for establishments in these regions. These include prioritising cooperation with local authorities to maintain security, public order and cleanliness, particularly for activities requiring heightened safety measures.

“Additionally, businesses are encouraged to provide ample parking facilities for guests and to prominently display the national flag,” the statement said.

Top Sopheak, spokesperson for the ministry, announced that this year’s festival aims to boost tourism and provide entertainment for both national and international visitors.

He mentioned that the ministry has instructed provincial departments to advise local operators to maintain standard service fees during the celebration to attract more guests and benefit residents.

“Before the Sea Festival, we aim to improve the quality of tourism products, services and hospitality,” he said.

The ministry’s directive seeks to enhance the overall quality of tourism-related services while promoting responsible and sustainable practices.

It calls for close collaboration between authorities, local administrations, relevant departments and the private sector to effectively implement the guidelines.

Som Chenda, director of the provincial tourism department, stated that the event will aid the economic growth of the province as well as the locals.

“The Sea Festival is not only to promote the province’s tourism sector but also to directly increase the income of the local people,” he said.

According to Chenda, there are currently about 1,600 hotel and guesthouse rooms in Kep, which may not suffice for the expected number of guests arriving for the celebration.

In addition to the ministries and institutions of the provincial government, the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia (UYFC) has also cooperated to ensure the smooth running of the national affair.

Piseth mentioned that the provincial government has implemented a 15-year tourism plan, starting with the festival.

The beautiful charm of Kep

A gem on Cambodia’s southern coast, Kep is renowned for its idyllic blend of natural beauty and cultural charm.

One of its main attractions, the serene and picturesque Kep Beach, offers visitors a tranquil retreat with its gentle waves and soft, sandy shores.

The province is also famous for Kep National Park, a haven for nature enthusiasts. It features lush trails perfect for hiking and bird watching, providing panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.

The Crab Market is a must-visit for culinary explorers. It’s known for its fresh seafood, particularly the delectable Kep crabs, often enjoyed with the famous Kampot pepper.

In 2017, when Kep hosted the festival for the second time, half a million people participated. This year, the event will be enhanced by a new coastal development initiative, featuring a planned “world-class” 2.7km beach offering numerous activities for locals and tourists. 

These activities include water sports like kayaking and paddle-boarding, beachside activities such as volleyball, soccer and yoga, along with cultural events showcasing Khmer music, dance, cooking and art.

Environmental efforts such as beach clean-ups and educational walks highlight conservation, making the festival a vibrant celebration of Kep’s evolving coastal heritage.

The newly introduced Kep Tourism Development Master Plan 2023-2035 aims to transform the province into a premier eco-tourism and luxury destination, enhancing its appeal beyond Cambodia’s borders. 

Former tourism minister Thong Khon stated during the plan’s launch that it leverages the province’s unique blend of natural, cultural and historical assets while adhering to sustainable, safe and competitive tourism practices.

Key strategies of the plan include the creation of new attractions such as a golf course, marina and casino, upgrading existing facilities like hotels and beaches and promoting luxury travel, business events and weddings.

A vendor sells fresh caught crabs straight from the sea.Hong Menea

Emphasising environmental protection, the plan positions the province as a sustainable tourism hub. The initiative is expected to elevate the province’s status in the tourism sector, stimulating job creation and economic growth in the region.

Business challenges amidst festival preparations

Near the bustling Crab Market, a woman brings the essence of the sea to life right in front of her restaurant’s entrance. With an unmatched passion for fresh seafood, she meticulously tends to her live seafood displayed in transparent glass tanks. Under the Cambodian sun, each tank glistens, showcasing a vibrant array of marine life, from shimmering fish to succulent crabs and prawns.

Sreypov Vita, owner of Sreypov Vita Restaurant, remains optimistic as a salesperson, still harbouring high expectations for the influx of visitors at the jubilee next month. However, Vita has observed a downturn in business in the lead-up to the jubilee. 

“Since before the election this year, visitors in the area have been scarce. Although the Sea Festival attracts many guests, I foresee that sales will not be as significant [this year],” she said.

She admitted to not preparing hundreds of kilos of seafood as in previous years, noting a reduction in her seafood stockpile by more than half this year. 

“During the Pchum Ben festival there weren’t many guests. So, I urge more people to come and visit the Sea Festival,” she added.

Keo Villa, owner of Kep Villa Hill Guesthouse, said that her guesthouse has not received any bookings to date, contrasting starkly with previous events when she had to close bookings months in advance. 

“In previous years, including during Covid-19, we had more visitors,” Villa told The Post. 

“Even during the Pchum Ben festival, some guesthouses struggled to fill rooms and cover staff costs. Seaside and luxury resorts are currently faring better than us,” she added.

Villa has called on the government and the ministry to help promote tourism in the province, citing financial challenges faced by local businesses.

Meng Lady, manager of Melea Resort near Kep Beach, acknowledged a significant drop in guest numbers over the past three months. She said guest numbers typically increase each November, and the resort usually offers lower rates during this season. However, due to the current low guest numbers, room rates remain between $40 and $70. 

“There are not many visitors in Kep,” Lady told The Post. “I anticipate fewer visitors for the Sea Festival due to limited awareness of the event and its proximity to the Water Festival.”

Sopheak acknowledged these concerns and highlighted several factors aimed at boosting visitor numbers. He emphasised road infrastructure improvements as part of the ministry’s coordinated efforts, facilitating easier access for travellers.

Another critical aspect is the need for local businesses and tourism operations to collaborate in promoting and offering high-quality services. He stressed that the main goal of the festival is to attract more visitors, promoting the province’s tourism potential both during and after the festival.

“Businesses, operators, tour operators and all stakeholders should work together to strengthen hospitality, products and pricing. Addressing these issues is crucial as Kep is a major luxury destination,” he said.

The Sea Festival comes right after the Water Festival which takes place from November 26-28. 

Regarding the Sea Festival’s close timing to the Water Festival, Sopheak noted that people have the choice between a big night out and other budget-friendly options, given the celebration’s wide variety of enjoyable activities.