DestinationsTravel operators in Siem Reap are braving the rainy season for swifter recovery in the months ahead.

Green's the season for rain and revival in Cambodia

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With more flights coming back, there’s reason to hope that visitor numbers could be up even in the rainy season, typically a lean season for Angkor.
With more flights coming back, there’s reason to hope that visitor numbers could be up even in the rainy season, typically a lean season for Angkor. Photo Credit: Fickr/Richard Holzer

It's been six months since the Siem Reap airport reopened to international flights, and travel industry members are hopeful that the surge in tourism driven by revenge travel will continue to play out in the months ahead.

In the initial months after Cambodia's border reopening, there was a noticeable change in the city’s overall mood as visitors from Singapore – residents or transiting from further afield – trickled in, and many establishments that temporarily shut, reopened their doors. 

“The somewhat steady yet restrained flow of travellers coming in via Singapore has been enough to inspire hope in the future for many of Siem Reap’s tourism operators,” said David Piot, president of the Cambodia Hotel Association’s Siem Reap chapter. “This single-gateway trickle has been enough to ensure the city’s more established low-volume operators’ ability to ease back into more financially sustainable business."

However, Piot noted that it’s still a far cry from the mass-market appeal Siem Reap held in the past. Even though Cambodia's initial reopening buzz has levelled out, there’s reason to hope this year’s monsoon season will play out differently in the city, despite the upcoming months typically marked as the destination's lean tourism period. 

FCC Angkor by Avani survived the pandemic by pivoting to domestic tourism.
FCC Angkor by Avani survived the pandemic by pivoting to domestic tourism. Photo Credit: FCC Collection

Piot continued: “This season will be quite challenging for Siem Reap as we begin to discover what surprises the post-pandemic lean season may hold. With regional tourism powerhouses like Thailand and Vietnam reopening, Cambodia’s first-mover advantage will find itself outmatched.

“Historically, Cambodia has been able to successfully utilise ASEAN’s travel reputation to its advantage without having to stand alone. Increased direct flight paths between regional flight hubs and Siem Reap will also be essential to the destination’s recovery," he added. 

Jam Nsouli, director of sales for FCC Angkor by Avani, agreed that more direct flights into the city could help Siem Reap secure a higher share of international travellers, especially from source markets that have summer school holidays this time of the year. 

“Since the reopening of the airport we have seen a slow and steady growth of international travellers,” she ssaid. “The interest [in] travel has definitely picked up awaiting more accessibility and availability of flights, especially to Siem Reap airport.”

Baby Elephant is one of the few establishments that remained open throughout the pandemic.
Baby Elephant is one of the few establishments that remained open throughout the pandemic. Photo Credit: Baby Elephant

For Ilana Tulloch, co-founder of boutique hotel Baby Elephant, she and her team had kept the hotel open during the pandemic with innovative offerings, from gift vouchers and long-term accommodations to online yoga classes and enlisting with food delivery apps. 

Part of Baby Elephant’s mission as a social enterprise is to provide “meaningful, empowered employment”, so even during the leanest stretches their staff were either in training or volunteering.

“There was a small spike in hotel visitors after the airport opened, and now things are beginning to feel like the pre-pandemic green season,” observed Ilana. Currently, Baby Elephant is focusing on wellness offerings like yoga classes and gearing up for its annual ‘Christmas in July’ celebrations.

The luxury travel segment is expected to recover sooner than the rest. If this holds true, the string of recent hotel reopenings signal Siem Reap’s recovery could be well underway.

The Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor reopened on the first of June following a three-year hiatus and major refurbishments. In a couple of weeks, another local icon, the Park Hyatt (formerly Hotel dela Paix) is set to reopen. Both hotel reopenings signal a confidence of things returning to regular programming in the city.

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