As the Pchum Ben Festival rapidly approaches, the Ministry of Tourism issued a circular instructing subordinate units to enhance the quality of tourism resources and help to effectively prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, as industry players indicate that domestic tourism is slowly beginning to revive.
Cambodian Buddhists will observe Pchum Ben for 15 days from September 22 to October 6, with the main festivities celebrated from October 5-7, ending a day after the main day of “great offering”, or Ben Thom, on October 6 coinciding with the new moon. The holiday is dedicated to their ancestors and is an occasion for families to get together.
The circular, signed by Minister of Tourism Thong Khon on September 10, advised the Phnom Penh and provincial tourism departments to closely monitor progress of the Covid-19 response.
The guideline called for the heightened observance of the ‘three do’s and three don’ts” rules and a recently-introduced set of minimum standard operating procedures (SOP) that are geared towards the “new normal” of the industry.
It urged managers of tourist attractions to register visitors and have them scan in the “Stop Covid” QR code system before they enter the premises, to assist with contact tracing efforts.
The document also called for justifiable limits for carrying capacities and improved management at each site, as well as cooperation with traders and tour operators to ensure adequate quality of tourism products and services, reasonable prices, and a hygienic and eco-friendly environment.
Owners of boats and ferries that do business at these getaways are warned not to overload their vessels, and obliged to carry essential safety equipment and other necessary gear.
After a lull in the aftermath of the February 20 community outbreak of Covid-19, Cambodia’s domestic tourism industry is now slowly recovering.
Ministry figures show that holidaymakers made 51,042 domestic trips across the Kingdom on September 4-5, the first weekend of the month, of which Cambodians accounted for 50,134 and foreign residents 908.
World Express Co Ltd managing director Ho Vandy told The Post that the tourism ministry is working with relevant government agencies and the private sector to adopt new measures and policies to gradually revitalise the sector.
While the aforementioned rules are more tailored to the Pchum Ben holiday, they also constitute a part of a broader package of measures that seek to strengthen safety management and instil confidence in plans to reopen the international tourism sector, he said.
He highlighted that any viable timeframe for reopening would be contingent on the Covid situation in the Kingdom and neighbouring countries.
“Safety considerations for both national and international tourists are essential to the sustainable recovery of the sector,” Vandy said.
Khmer Angkor Tour Guide Association president Khieu Thy said the uncertainty over the Covid-19 outbreak gives him no hope that tourism in Siem Reap could resume before the end of the year.
To make matters worse, many roads in the province that would have improved accessibility to tourism sites are still undergoing renovations or expansions, he pointed out.
While the ministry’s latest circular is indeed a welcome step, it comes up rather short for entertainment venues, Thy lamented.
“For me, the tourism sector still needs more time for a meaningful recovery.”