Hospitality, spa and wellness professionals – as well as massage therapists – in Siem Reap are receiving on-the-job training designed to prepare them for the return of Japanese tourists.

The training was conducted under the auspices of the ASEAN-Japan Centre, and run by Japanese officials and Cambodian tourism ministry staff.

According to the Ministry of Tourism, the programme – which will run from January 9 to 20 – is the second of its kind. The previous course was conducted in Phnom Penh in December.

Pak Sokhom, ministry secretary of state, presided over the virtual opening of the training, alongside Kunihiko Hirabayashi, secretary-general of the ASEAN-Japan Centre.

“This course will enhance the ability of Cambodian spa and wellness professionals and allow them to provide services of international standards,” he said.

“This training is in line with the ASEAN Spa Professional Skills Standards,” he noted.

Speaking to the 25 trainees, Hirabayashi expressed his optimism that the course would contribute to the regeneration of the skills that were lost during the long period of Covid-19 shutdowns.

“Japanese tourists in particular, are fans of therapeutic massage. This type of specialised massage requires a clear understanding of the nervous system and muscles, to ensure that it is both comfortable and therapeutic,” he said.

He instructed the trainees to pay close attention to what was being taught, so they could take their new-found skills back to their workplaces.

According to the tourism ministry, under the ASEAN Mutual Recognition Arrangement on Tourism Professionals, member countries are working to ensure that training in 32 hotel and travel services is in line with regional standards.

Thourn Sinan, chairman of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Cambodia Chapter, said the Kingdom was not yet considered a specialist massage and spa destination by Japanese tourists, who generally visited the country to see its cultural treasures and ancient temples.

“This kind of training could change that,” he added.

“Japanese tourists have contributed significantly to the development of Cambodia’s tourism sector, but they generally work with affiliated Japanese businesses – meaning that a lot of the money they spend returns offshore.

“If Japan really wants to contribute to the development of our tourism sector, they shouldn’t only work with Japanese firms,” he said, while conceding that the Japanese did tend to use Cambodian drivers and stay in Cambodian-owned hotels