Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Coronavirus sparks 15 percent fall in tourist numbers

Travellers walking past the Phnom Penh international airport. CamboJA

The number of foreign tourists to Cambodia has dropped around 15 percent in the first two months of the year because of the global coronavirus scare.

Tourism Ministry secretary of state Tith Chantha said Siem Reap and Preah Sihanouk had seen the biggest declines, with Phnom Penh also experiencing a slight decrease.

“During the first two months of this year, international tourists have decreased around 15 percent because of Covid-19,” Chantha said, using another name for the new strain of coronavirus that emerged in China and has spread worldwide.

More than 93,000 cases have been identified worldwide, leading to more than 3,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

Chantha said that the ministry was pushing to expand domestic tourism to make up for the loss, particularly to aid tourism operators in Siem Reap and Preah Sihanouk. Those provinces are hardest-hit because they were popular with Chinese tourists, the biggest market for Cambodian tourism, and also the most affected by coronavirus.

“We’re pushing to be have big meeting in Siem Reap and Preah Sihanouk provinces,” Chantha said, explaining that the ministry was proposing up to 30 new initiatives to boost tourism.

Hotels and guesthouses are being relieved from their tax burdens for four months starting in February, while tourists will be offered special tickets in partnership with accommodation providers to encourage travel, he said.

Chantha added that border security measures were in place to protect the country from coronavirus, and he hoped the outbreak would soon calm down.

“We hope that in three to four months, the situation of tourists will go back again and Covid-19 will be finished,” he said.

Chantha said eight hotels out of about 300 in Siem Reap had suspended their operations due to the downturn.

Chhay Sivlin, president of Cambodian Association of Travel Agents (CATA), put the number higher at 20.

“About 20 hotels have closed in Siem Reap province including Ree Hotel, Majestic [Oriental] Hotel, Bayon Era Hotel, Princess [Angkor] Hotel, Royal Crown Hotel, Angkor Grand [Pleasure] Hotel, Chhang Yong [Tourism], Gold Diana Hotel and Garden Flower [Resort],” she said. “The closure of those hotels is because they have no tourists who go to stay there.”

Tour companies were also struggling, she said, and asked that the government look at ways to reduce businesses’ electricity bills.

“For hotels, even if they have only two guests, they need to turn on the electricity for whole the hotel,” she said. “If those hotels turn off the electricity, the city will become dark and quiet.”

On Monday, Prime Minister Hun Sen appealed to the nation to visit local tourism sites to help the industry, noting that more than 1 million Cambodians travel to foreign countries every year.

“Please, our people, tour our destinations in Cambodia,” Hun Sen said. “This is to participate in rescuing the economy in our country to reduce the effects of Covid-19.”