Cambodia has emerged as a Covid-19 vaccination success story, distributing jabs to more of its population than any other Southeast Asian nation — second only to far wealthier, much smaller Singapore.
The impressive vaccine rollout — which has garnered praise from the World Bank — has led the country’s tourism ministry to set the wheels in motion for welcoming back inbound arrivals.
Earlier this month, the ministry announced that international tourists who have received both doses could be allowed to enter the country from early November. They are also considering decreasing the 14-day quarantine policy for those who are fully vaccinated. On 17 September, Prime Minister Hun Sen urged the tourism ministry to decrease the period to seven days and to allow visitors to explore beyond their hotel in accordance with local authorities.
According to reported comments by Jacques Guichandut, managing director of All Dreams Cambodia, a Phnom Penh-based B2B tour operator, the vaccination process has been very well organised, and it is expected that vaccination rates will reach 70% to 80% of the population by the beginning of October or November.
Siem Reap’s Amansara has received increasing requests for private experiences, such as dinners in serene spaces. Aman Resorts Ltd Photo Credit: Aman Resorts Ltd
Vaccination and tourist enquiries rising
Guichandut, who has lived in Cambodia for 25 years, believes it is vital the international market knows about the country’s impressive vaccination rates, “as this will be a key factor for tourists to return”.
As of 19 September, 61.4% of Cambodia’s population was fully inoculated, while the capital, Phnom Penh, is Southeast Asia’s most vaccinated city.
Meanwhile, Tom Rutherford, general manager of Siem Reap’s Amansara, believes the country will appeal to those seeking a safe destination in Southeast Asia once international travel resumes.
“Cambodia is well-suited to post-pandemic travel, meeting travellers’ growing desire to visit discreet destinations where crowds are minimal,” said Rutherford.
“Cambodia can cater exceptionally to this market, where rolling rice paddies give way to ancient temples and rural civilisations, many of which are scarcely populated and away from the tourist crowds."
The former residence for guests of King Sihanouk and 10 minutes from the entrance to Angkor Wat, Amansara has received increasing requests for private experiences. For families wishing to reconnect after a long period of separation, it is offering guests staying four nights or more a “Family Adventure”, including a private tour of the Unesco World Heritage Site, cooking classes, ox cart riding, and cycling through temples.
To prepare for Cambodia's reopening, eco tourism might be one of the areas that look promising.
The World Bank is investing US$54 million in the fire-year Cambodia Sustainable Landscape and Eco-tourism Project (CSLEP) — the financial institution’s greatest tourism investment in the country. The project's tourism consultant Nick Ray was reported to have said that with [CSLEP’s] scope and scale, there is a chance to put eco-tourism at the centre of Cambodia’s tourism offerings.
Cambodia’s tourism ministry will need to move fairly quickly to retain a competitive edge in the region, as neighbouring Thailand partially opened to tourists via the Phuket Sandbox scheme in July, and fully vaccinated travellers are slated to be able to visit five provinces from November.
Indonesia's Bali hopes to open in October or November, while the Philippines is keeping a close eye on the Sandbox scheme for its own reopening plans.
Although Vietnam had announced that Phu Quoc island would welcome fully vaccinated tourists from October, this plan has been paused due to slow vaccination distribution.
“If Cambodia opens now it means it will be a unique chance for travellers to visit Angkor Wat with almost no other visitors, said Guichandut. “Being there almost alone is completely different.”