Buddhist monks chant as they receive donations during a ceremony celebrating Pchum Ben, or Ancestors' Day, at a pagoda on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Oct 5, 2021. (HENG SINITH / AP)
Optimism is growing in Cambodia as the country prepares to partially reopen its vital tourism industry to international visitors from the end of next month.
"The time to rebuild has come," said Arnaud Darc, president of the Cambodia Restaurant Association, in expressing a sentiment that is taking hold well beyond the travel and hospitality sectors.
Darc's spirits have lifted since the Cambodian government released a long-term master plan for tourism on Oct 20. The document aims to play a role in promoting the country's recovery from the pandemic.
The master plan comes "at a key moment that sees the tourism industry awaken after a prolonged pandemic which caused a slump in travel globally" and devastated the hospitality-related businesses, said Darc, who is also the chairman and chief executive of the Thalias Hospitality Group.
The phased reopening of the tourism sector－to vaccinated foreign travelers－is focused initially on the visitor hot spot of Siem Reap Province in the country's north.
The Siem Reap Tourism Development Master Plan 2021-35 has been winning support from business operators. The province is renowned for its Angkor temple complex.
The master plan will "play an important role to promote the quality, safety and sustainable development of the tourism industry in the province," Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Aun Pornmoniroth was quoted by Xinhua News Agency as saying at the online launch event.
Under the master plan, the province was expected to attract 7.5 million international tourists and 10.9 million domestic visitors by 2035, generating about $5.9 billion in revenue.
The 400-square-kilometer Angkor Archaeological Park－the kingdom's most popular tourism destination－was added to the United Nations' World Heritage List in 1992.
Vital to recovery
About 2.2 million out of some 6.6 million international tourists to Cambodia visited the centuries-old temple complex in 2019, yielding gross revenue of $99 million in ticket sales. But in the first nine months of 2021, only 6,100 foreign visitors arrived, according to Xinhua.
On Thursday, Cambodia held a launch ceremony for its vaccine tourism plan, with designated cities and areas in Preah Sihanouk and Koh Kong provinces to open for vaccinated tourists from Nov 30 in the initial phase, according to local media Khmer Times.
Heng Kimkong, a visiting senior research fellow at the Cambodia Development Center, a think tank in Phnom Penh, said the tourism plan is vital to the recovery of Cambodia.
"It is essential to have the tourism master plan, which provides clear directions on how to restore the tourism sector," Heng Kimkong said.