International tourist arrivals dwindled down to 1,267,890 in the first 10 months of this year, sinking an unprecedented 76.1 per cent from the 5,296,088 recorded in same period last year, the Ministry of Tourism reported at the weekend.
This is a sobering reminder of the lingering damage that Covid-19 has inflicted on the sector, in an era where countries around the world have shuttered their borders and imposed travel restrictions in response to the pandemic.
A total of 734,309 tourists entered the Kingdom through its three international airports in January-October, taking an 80.2 per cent year-on-year nosedive, while 533,581 arrived by land or waterways, plunging 66.3 per cent year-on-year.
Chinese tourists once again topped the list at 314,291 visitors, representing an 84.5 per cent year-on-year dip.
Thai, Vietnamese and US tourists numbered 194,774; 181,328; and 55,170, all of which dropped by 41.5, 74.8 and 71.6 per cent year-on-year. Tourists from the UK, France and Japan all registered lower figures over last year.
Ministry of Tourism spokesman Top Sopheak told The Post on December 7 that while international visitorship to the Kingdom had managed to elude the dragnet of Covid-19 in its early months, it eventually caught up in March.
“We are all too aware that the current decline in international tourist arrivals is a universal dilemma. The bulk of the visitors we’re getting now are investors and that’s pretty much it,” he lamented.
Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng on December 4 issued a press release stipulating health measures for all travellers who enter Cambodia from December 12.
The statement said all in-bound passengers must self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival and are required to obtain a certificate indicating that they have tested negative for Covid-19 within 72 hours of departure from their country of origin.
Acknowledging that this would inevitably stymie the tourism industry’s recovery, Sopheak said it is a necessary measure that takes people’s lives into account and could potentially avert a health catastrophe.
Cambodia Association of Travel Agents president Chhay Sivlin noted that the tourism sector is reeling in the midst of a year-long dearth of visitors, with some businesses closing their doors and others clinging on for dear life as owners are forced to downsize or halt operations and tap personal funds to stay afloat.
She echoed Sopheak’s concerns that the health ministry’s new self-quarantine rule will further weigh down on international tourist arrivals.
“By my reckoning, the number of international tourists to Cambodia will only decline further for the remainder of 2020,” Sivlin said.
While tourism to the Kingdom had seen somewhat of a rebound recently, the “November 28 community event” put a swift end to the reverie, she said in reference to the first local transmission on November 28.
She called on the government to consider affording the tourism sector additional fiscal perks such as waiving penalties associated with tax debt over the full-year 2020 to mitigate the effects of Covid-19 and ensure that more tour companies can retain their staff.
Cambodia attracted 6.61 million international tourists last year, jumping up 6.6 per cent from 6.2 million in 2018, tourism ministry figures show.
The Kingdom earned $4.91 billion in international tourism receipts last year, up 12.4 per cent from $4.37 billion in 2018, the data show.
And according to the World Bank, the tourism industry represented 18.7 per cent of the Kingdom’s gross domestic product last year, second after construction (and real estate).