By Ngay Nai
Domestic tourists are helping revive Cambodia’s pandemic-shattered tourism industry, with more than one million local visitors traveling nationwide to celebrate new year.
Experts claim this surge in local tourists could help local businesses and informal sectors generate more income after almost two years of no international visitors.
Speaking in a statement, Minister of Tourism Thong Khon said more than one million tourists traveled across the country during the new year celebrations, with the majority being local tourists. He added this number has increased almost 64 percent compared to last year when COVID-19 was rife.
Phnom Penh and Siem Reap were the top destinations to welcome the most visitors.
Taing Sochet Krisna, head of Preah Sihanouk tourism department, said the number of tourists to the province has continued to increase since November, when the government opened borders to foreign vaccinated tourists.
However, he noted for now local tourists continue to play a significant role in restoring the tourism sector. According to the Ministry of Tourism, Preah Sihanouk province received 55,717 tourists to mark new year celebrations.
‘’The number of tourists visiting the province has increased around 50 percent compared to the same period in 2020. This will enable a variety of businesses in the tourism sector to restore their operations,” said Taing Sochet Krisna.
He added restoring the tourism sector is important as it can help small businesses, informal workers and street vendors. Those who do not work directly in the field can also increase their income.
‘’COVID-19 has distracted the tourism sector for almost two years. Businesses were forced to suspend their operations; informal workers have lost their incomes while most of them are owing depts from the bank,” said Taing Sochet Krisna. “As of now, informal workers, especially those who work in tourism, are given hope with the growth of local tourists.”
Vorn Pao, executive director of Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association, is also optimistic about the growth of local tourists in helping informal workers. He said the number of tourists keep increasing, especially local tourists, which is a good sign for informal workers in the tourism sector.
‘’If tourists keep increasing like this, I firmly believe that the informal workers possibly could increase their income and be able to pay the debts back to the bank,” said Vorn Pao.
Pov Sreyneang, a 36-year-old street vendor at the Royal Palace, said she has suspended selling since the 20 February incident. Recently, she resumed her business as the COVID-19 situation improved in the country.
She said in the last several months, she has not made any income as she largely depends on her small business. “During the lockdown, not many people dared to go out due to the fear of COVID-19. Therefore, I did not have any better choice but was forced to stop selling for a while,” she said.
Speaking with sadness, Pov Sreyneang said during that time she spent all of her savings to pay for her rent and daily expenses. “It is the saddest moment for my life,” she said.
It has been almost two months now since she restarted her business. Even if it is not yet making good money, she said it remains her main source of income.
“As of now, there are more tourists going out, especially during the weekend. This can make our selling much easier than before,” she said.
In an audio message released on 20 December, the Cambodian Prime Minister called an end to the 20 February community incident as the overall situation is gradually returning to normal and COVID-19 cases are more controllable.
On January 2, the Ministry of Health revealed the vaccination rate in Cambodia has reached 89.14 percent of the targeted 16 million population. With the success of the vaccination campaign, the COVID-19 daily cases in Cambodia fell sharply. On Monday, Cambodia recorded only six new cases and one death.