Prime Minister Hun Sen urged ASEAN to reopen tourism and trade now that many of the bloc’s member countries have vaccinated their populations.

Speaking at the 40th ASEAN Tourism Forum 2022 (ATF 2022) in Preah Sihanouk province on January 18, the premier also said ASEAN has a lot of work to do this year and will not be held hostage to the prolonged Myanmar crisis.

“I want to stress that our work in 2022 is not solely about Myanmar like some people have been saying these last three weeks. We have many other initiatives and ASEAN is not going to be held hostage by the Myanmar issue. That is my short and precise statement for those who follow these matters,” he said.

Cambodia is hosting the ATF 2022 from January 16-22 with many local and international participants in the tourism sector and dignitaries from ASEAN in attendance, including ASEAN secretary-general Lim Jock Hoi who is on a five-day official visit as the Kingdom chairs the bloc for 2022.

“I am happy that [Lim] has met with many partners in Cambodia ranging from those in politics and security to economics and culture, and that they have worked with each other well in preparing for Cambodia’s turn as ASEAN chair in 2022.

“I also want to stress that the ASEAN agenda is not just one single matter, there are a lot of other issues and one of them is how to make tourism survive in the context of Covid-19 when we cannot be certain about what will happen,” he said.

Hun Sen urged ASEAN tourism ministers to find ways to facilitate the flow of tourism this year while appealing to other member nations to continue strengthening and expanding their cooperation with other dialogue and development partners by building partnerships between the state and private sectors on a local, regional and global basis to bring prosperity to ASEAN and the world.

He noted that in the past two years, ASEAN member states had enforced different measures to deal with Covid-19 and those measures posed challenges for trade and tourism, especially travel between the ASEAN countries.

He said that in 2022, travel of goods should be unrestricted in the context of Covid-19 as it is the only way to reconnect the tourism sector with business and trade in the region. He said this move is supported by the fact that Cambodia and many countries in the region have enough vaccines for their people, thus vaccinations in one ASEAN member should be acknowledged by all other member countries.

Prime Minister Hun Sen presides over the 40th ASEAN Tourism Forum 2022 in Preah Sihanouk province on Tuesday. Heng Chivoan

“I suggest adopting something similar to what Cambodia is enforcing at its borders: Those who are already vaccinated with two doses just take a rapid test and 15 or 20 minutes later they can leave and travel anywhere in the country. This would reduce the difficulties with travel in ASEAN.

“I also appreciate Thailand which was recently practicing these measures along with Cambodia. When a Cambodian went to Thailand, they did not have to undergo quarantine and their citizens coming to Cambodia did not have to go through quarantine,” he said, adding that Cambodia was now open in this manner to all people from around the world.

Nevertheless, he noted that the reopening of tourism must be done within the new normal. Given that the tourism sector will be highly competitive post-pandemic, he urged all ASEAN countries to think about tourism based on the quality of the products and services, pricing, transport facilitation, trust and safety for each tourism destination and the measures they undertake to control the Covid-19 situation.

“All of these are key factors for visitors when they are making a decision about choosing their next travel destination in this new context. In this sense, the ASEAN tourism recovery plan in the context of Covid-19 will be part of our strategy of gradual reopening to international visitors based on a balance between socio-economic factors and public health concerns in an effort to return to a ‘new normal’ way of living,” he said.

The premier said he supported all initiatives of ASEAN member states for implanting health measures within the tourism industry, with mechanisms to ensure the return of tourist activities while continuing the fight against Covid-19 by practicing common sense principles.

He said Cambodia has effectively implanted its tourism with Covid-19 safety measures and safe standard operating procedures for reopening tourism businesses in this new normal.

He also urged ASEAN to consider greater promotion of tourism within the bloc itself, though he favours the initiative to reopen tourism for the whole of ASEAN and welcome all visitors from around the world.

“I urge the ASEAN tourism ministers to declare the full reopening of tourism throughout the region on January 19 from here in Preah Sihanouk province,” he said.

He also urged ASEAN, the World Tourism Organisation and all tourism associations to continue with plans for human resource development and strengthening their existing cooperation mechanisms as well as increasing the exchange of skills and talents by promoting small tourism businesses and taking advantage of innovation.

Hun Sen thanked the participants at the ATF 2022 for attending the forum in Cambodia’s coastal province and showing solidarity, friendship and unity as they work together on developing and restoring tourism and getting out of the pandemic – acts which embody the ASEAN principle of “one community, one destiny”.