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More Cambodians Are Traveling Locally as Foreign Tourism Plummets, Industry Says

Visitors at Daung TE resort in Kampot province in April 2019 (Daung TE)

Tourism businesses say they are seeing increases in Cambodian travelers in recent weeks as they attempt to recover from the coronavirus-driven drop in visitor arrivals.

According to the Tourism Ministry’s latest statistics report, there were just over 14,000 foreign tourists in May, down from more than 570,000 a year earlier — a 97 percent fall.

International travel has been locked down around the world to try to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected 15 million and killed 640,000 so far, according to the World Health Organization.

Cambodian tourists also dropped 74 percent in May compared to a year earlier, but the lesser decline means they now make up 94 percent of all tourists, up from 59 percent.

Chhay Sivlin, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, said the number of local travelers was now growing “from week to week.”

“The most visited destinations for local people are coastal areas, mountain areas and ecotourism sites,” Sivlin said. Cultural sites such as Angkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap, however, were generally only seeing visitors from nearby areas, she said.

People had been isolating themselves in recent months to help prevent the spread of the virus, and were now beginning to feel more confident about going out, she said.

The industry hoped to also see regional tourism restored soon, she added.

“We recently had a meeting with Asian leaders for both the private sector and the state to discuss cooperation on the first steps to boost Asian tourism,” Chivlin said. “To restore tourism, we are pushing in the region first.”

Sem Im, head of the popular Trapeang Sangkae Ecotourism Community in Kampot province, said July had seen a resurgence of local tourists, especially from Phnom Penh and Kandal province.

Weekends were especially busy, with 700 to 800 visitors each day, Im said.

“Most visitors come to visit for the boat cruise,” he said.

Ly Ratana, manager of the Daung TE resort, another well-known destination in Kampot, said local tourism usually drops off after May due to the start of the rainy season, but this year there had been a rise instead.

Many of the local visitors were choosing to travel within the country because their plans to travel abroad had been canceled, Ratana said.

He added that most tourism businesses had coronavirus precautions in place, and visitors were happy to comply. “People are more aware of coronavirus, and they know what they need to do to protect themselves.”

There have been 225 cases of coronavirus in Cambodia as of Monday, with 82 of them currently active. A man died in a quarantine center last week after he tested negative for coronavirus, and the death was attributed to “exhaustion.”

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