Expats in Cambodia adjusting to the total lack of tourism

Published:  19 May at 6 PM
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Following its unofficial invasion by hordes of Chinese on- and offline casino operations, Cambodia is now struggling to cope with an almost non-existent tourism sector.

As in the rest of Southeast Asia, Covid-19 has put paid to tourism in Cambodia, just as the country was recovering from the bad press following the Chinese unofficial but devastating takeover of the former Royal vacation destination of Sihanoukville. Its tourism ministry seems to have realised that, for now at least, the hospitality industry is on its knees and unlikely to stand up again until the pandemic is well and truly over. The situation is also bad news for those Western expats who’d recently chosen Cambodia as a refuge from increasing xenophobia and tighter visa renewal regulations in Thailand.

As Cambodia’s tourism industry was, basically, in its infancy and ready to build on its existing attractions, the arrival of Covid-19 was no less than a disaster. Restoring the sector to its previously-increasing health looks like a massive challenge, according to the president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, even although the tourism ministry’s recently approved request for suggestions from the sector’s hard-hit professionals is intended to create a rescue plan before it’s too late. Unsurprisingly, the reaction from the sector was muted, to say the least, as most of the country’s tourist-aimed business had already closed down.

Some 99 per cent of Cambodia’s hospitality businesses are now defunct, with the one per cent still functioning in Phnom Penh serving the long-stay expat community as well as investors looking for a bargain. Of the 630,000 tourism sector employees, some 300,000 have lost their jobs, with the ministry now looking to boost in-country tourism followed by visitors from neighbouring countries and finally from across the whole of Asean. The major issue with the plan is its economic base, as locals without jobs and pay are unlikely to take holidays, even in their own country, with the same applying to those in other Southeast Asian states.

The minister is looking to Chinese visitors to save Cambodia’s tourism woes, but so are Vietnam, Thailand and other SEA countries and there’s no guarantee that a second wave of the virus in China won’t be worse than the first.
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