Tourism industry officials and representatives expressed concern that the outbreak of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) will devastate Cambodia’s tourism industry following the Kingdom’s first documented case in the coastal province of Sihanoukville on Monday.

At a press conference late on Monday, Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng said Chinese national Jia Jianhua, 60, from Wuhan city, the epicentre of the outbreak, tested positive for the virus.

Their aeroplane landed at Sihanoukville International Airport on January 23, he said.

Cambodia Association of Travel Agents president Chhay Sivlin said the news will negatively affect the Kingdom’s tourism industry, especially in Preah Sihanouk province where many Chinese nationals reside and travel to.

The virus’ discovery is having an emotional impact on tourists, and bookings for tourism-related services have slowed, she said.

“I am concerned because tourism not only creates jobs for Cambodians but is a vital part of promoting Cambodia’s economic growth,” she said.

However, Preah Sihanouk provincial Department of Tourism director Taing Sochet Kresna said last year’s government ban on online gambling had already reduced the number of Chinese visitors to the province.

“The figures would not drop significantly due to the discovery of the virus,” he said.

Local authorities, he said, are working hard to prevent further spread of the virus by disseminating risk prevention measures to the public.

Ministry of Tourism spokesman Top Sopheak said the virus’ presence will contribute to the drop in the number of international tourists to the Kingdom.

But, he said his ministry has introduced emergency mechanisms to maintain the number of visitors, placate the tourism industry and prevent the virus’ spread to other tourist areas.

“The first thing we need to do now is promote domestic tourism so that the sector can continue to grow,” he said.

Khek Norinda, the communications and public relations director of Cambodia Airports, the French-Malaysian joint venture that operates the Kingdom’s three international airports, said flights between the Kingdom and Wuhan city have been suspended.

All flights to the other 39 destinations in China will remain in operation as normal, he said, adding that there are six weekly flights to Wuhan – three from Siem Reap and three from Sihanoukville.

“Based on our past experience during the [2002-2004] severe acute respiratory syndrome [Sars] outbreak, we expect a negative impact on traffic at the three international airports. However, it is still too soon to assess its extent,” said Norinda.

He said the Ministry of Health and its quarantine services reactivated thermal scans between January 10 and 11 at the arrival gates of all international airports.

“The airports have posted recommendations by the WHO [World Health Organisation] and the Ministry of Health on our communications platforms, and we are providing masks to all of our personnel and gloves for the staff who clean aircraft cabins,” he said.

In the first 11 months of last year, Cambodia received 5.89 million foreign tourists, an 8.3 per cent increase from 2018’s 5.44 million, data from the Ministry of Tourism released on Tuesday showed.

Chinese tourists were at the top of the list at 2.18 million during the period, up 19.5 per cent year-on-year, followed by Vietnamese tourists at 809,170, up 15.2 per cent year-on-year.