The Ministry of Tourism has called on travellers as well as owners and managers of tourism-linked businesses to follow and ensure compliance with the minimum standard operating procedures (SOP) for tourism, in a notice issued ahead of the three-day Pchum Ben festival this weekend.

Cambodian Buddhists are observing Pchum Ben for 15 days, which falls between September 11 and 25 this year, the first 14 of which are enumerated as the 1st-through-14th Kan Ben Days, where families typically gather at pagodas, bringing food and other offerings for monks.

The main festivities will take place over the three days from September 24-26, starting on the 14th Kan Ben Day and including an additional day after the primary day of “great offering”, or Ben Thom, on September 25 which coincides with the new moon. The full 16-day holiday is dedicated in memory of ancestors and is an occasion for families to get together.

Minister of Tourism Thong Khon launched the minimum SOPs on August 31, 2021 to prevent the spread of Covid-19, which categorised tourism businesses into four main classes: accommodation providers; eateries and restaurants; attraction operators; and community-based or ecotourism enterprises.

The main measures outlined in the tourism safety rule set cover washing and disinfecting hands, keeping social distance, wearing face masks, vaccination, monitoring body temperature, and use of the location and contact-tracing app “Stop Covid” QR Code.

Pacific Asia Travel Association Cambodia Chapter chairman Thourn Sinan told The Post that the minimum SOPs are now largely overlooked, even though new cases continue to be reported every day.

He lauded the ministry’s latest reminder as an “important” contributor to the eradication of the Covid-19 epidemic in Cambodia, and initiative to instil overall confidence in the Kingdom.

“I fully support the SOP reminder because Covid-19 is all around us. Effective implementation of the SOP will not only help individuals, but also help society as a whole to progress, and the number of foreign tourists visiting Cambodia will increase in tandem,” he said.

A general observation has been that the measures are currently implemented at just 20-30 per cent of tourist-oriented destinations and establishments, he claimed.

San Vichet, owner of the Doeum Pring restaurant in Battambang province, also welcomed the reminder, sharing that patrons hardly ever follow the measures, even though thermometers and hand sanitisers are available on-site.

Nonetheless, staff is regularly told to observe the measures prescribed by the health and tourism ministries, he said.

Vichet underscored that the restaurant would invariably suffer should a customer claim to have contracted the novel coronavirus from the establishment. “[Still,] I hope we’ll get loads of guests over Pchum Ben this year and nothing will happen,” he said.

In the first seven months of 2022, holidaymakers made more than 1.2 million domestic trips across Cambodia, rising by 890 per cent year-on-year, of which Cambodians accounted for 1.1 million, up by 799 per cent, and foreign residents represented “more than 80,000”, marking a 1,352 per cent rise, the tourism minister reported on August 19.