Cambodia lays out master plan to bring back tourists

RECOVERY ROADMAP

During the pandemic, tourism-related businesses were boosted by varying levels of tax relief while those in the industry who lost their jobs were given US$40 in monthly payouts. 

But beyond such handouts, the government needed more solid plans to chart its recovery from the devastating effects of COVID-19. 

Enter an ambitious roadmap laid out by Cambodia’s tourism ministry in 2021.

In Angkor Wat, the Apsara National Authority used the downtime to refresh parts of the temple. And all this while, everyone kept their jobs: Not a single worker out of the more than 4,000 at Angkor Wat was dismissed, said spokesperson Long Kosal. 

Instead, they were put to work. “Prior to the pandemic, we saw many visitors from all over the world, roaming around the temple. There was no time for the temple to rest,” Mr Long Kosal said.

“One of the improvements we made (during the downtime) was a sprinkler system so that we can water the grass during the dry season, so it’s always green.”

The entrance of Angkor Wat was also cleaned up. Stalls, previously clustered near the entrance, were moved to another area.

Apsara National Authority is also looking into improving walkways and making them more wheelchair- and stroller-friendly.

On top of that, Apsara National Authority plans to jumpstart local cultural tours around Angkor Wat and in Siem Reap.

There are plans to revive ox cart tours that would ply nearby villages where tourists can see local craftsmen at work, making traditional drums out of tree trunks and wooden toy souvenirs.

Cambodia’s master plan includes improving the country’s linkages by speeding up the building of a new international airport in the capital Phnom Penh and constructing more roads and bridges.

When completed, it is hoped that such infrastructure can help divert tourists to the less-explored parts of Cambodia.

CALL OF THE WILD

While foreign visitors slowed to a trickle during the two-year lockdown, local tourists provided some much-needed relief for the battered industry.

For all of 2020 and 2021, around 300,000 people visited eco-tourism attractions. In 2021 alone, the figure went up to about a half million.

Cambodian Ministry of Tourism Secretary of State Neth Pheaktra said he hopes locals – who have started appreciating natural sites in their own backyard – can help spread the word to the rest of the world.

“Ecotourism is very important for us because they’re new destinations tapping the landscape of Cambodia,” Mr Pheaktra said.

“We have forests, rice fields, community living. They can potentially attract more foreign tourists to visit while getting the locals to love their country at the same time.”

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