Siem Reap Ready to Welcome Tourists from All Over the World

Siem Reap is now ready to welcome local and international tourists back, the province’s governor says. Photo by Chhorn Sophat

But with only 10,376 international visitors in the first quarter of 2022, pre-pandemic tourist crowds are yet to come

SIEM REAP – More than two years after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led the Cambodian tourism sector into its worst crisis of the 21st century, Siem Reap is now ready to welcome local and international tourists back, the province’s governor said.

Being Cambodia’s main tourist destination, Siem Reap, which houses the famous archeological complex of Angkor, was severely affected by the complete suspension of international travels. However, the city has enough tour operators and local guides to host visitors, Siem Reap Provincial Governor Tea Seiha said. 

Since the full reopening of the Cambodian borders in March 2022, 40 percent of Siem Reap hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and tourism businesses have reopened, he said, adding that more will follow in the future.

"The Ministry of Tourism and the provincial administration are pushing for the rehabilitation of tour guides [especially in the temples area], granting them licenses to operate and working with them to promote eco-tourism sites around the city and in remote areas. We encourage them [to come back]," he said. Due to the lack of clients, many guides had to seek other jobs elsewhere, like Sihanoukville or Kampong Cham, as they couldn’t financially sustain themselves in Siem Reap.

"But when tourists come back, I believe they will return to their core work as tour operators and guides,” he said.

Seeing the current growth of national tourism during the last national holidays –Siem Reap received more than 400,000 local visitors during the Khmer New Year– Seiha encourages local tourists who visit Siem Reap to use the services of Khmer language tour guides. When visiting the Angkor temples, they can provide deep and precise knowledge about the temples’ history and the meaning of the multi-century old carvings.

Cambodia Chinese Tour Guide Association (CCTGA) President Tea Kileng said that his team has been preparing to welcome guests from China, who used to be the main source of foreign visitors, since Nov. 30, 2021.

CCTGA has cooperated closely with the tourism ministry and the provincial authorities to welcome tourists since Cambodia has eased entry measures for fully vaccinated travelers, he added.

"But so far, we have welcomed only a few Chinese visitors as China still faces a severe Covid-19 outbreak," he said. "During the Khmer new year, we saw a spike in Chinese visitors in Siem Reap, mostly because of locally-based Chinese nationals visiting the temples. But after the new year, it has become quiet again. Plus, the domestic quests don’t really need us."

The government has built new infrastructure in the city, to turn its tourist capital into a more livable and convenient place. Furthermore, local authorities, the Apsara authority and the Tourism Ministry made the most of the visitors’ drop to create the Angkor Wat gardens, a new venue in front of Angkor Wat, concentrating parking lots, refurbished shops and trees to better accommodate the flow of tourists visiting the archeological site.

Back to butterflies’ raising to attract tourists

Duk Deth, who owns the Butterflies Garden Restaurant in Siem Reap said that he reopened the restaurant at the same time the government announced he would reopen the country to international visitors.

"During the lockdown, we did some trainings to strengthen our skills and improve the service, hygiene and menu,” he said. “At the restaurant, we cleaned and reorganized the whole garden.” 

He said that he's ready to welcome local and international tourists. “But so far, guests are scarce.”

Heavily impacted by the pandemic’s aftermaths on tourism, he had to drop his venue’s highlight, butterfly raising, for a few months. As the trend is now shifting, with the slow rise of visitors, he “could start to raise butterflies again, to attract tourists”, he says. 

Nevertheless, it’s not yet the end of the road. Siem Reap Provincial Governor Tea Seiha said he could not foresee the future growth of international tourism as the lack of flights is still a major problem, both on frequency and price. As a result, the number of international visitors is still limited.

"I hope other countries will be able to prevent the spread of COVID-19, so that we will be able to receive more tourists," he said. "Although we are well-organized, flight connections with Siem Reap are still low, limiting the tourism sector's capacity to recover from the sanitary crisis.”

As of May 10, only Singapore Airlines and Cambodia Angkor Air operate direct flights to Siem Reap. "I hope other airlines will resume their operations as soon as possible," Seiha said. 

In the first quarter of 2022, only 10,376 international visitors arrived at Siem Reap international airport, a 95.7 percent decrease from the same period in 2020, at the early days of the pandemic.

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