RESTART: Siem Reap officially opens up for “new normal” tourism 

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After almost a two-year lull in activity brought by the pandemic, Siem Reap City, international tourism hub and gateway to the Angkor Wat temple complex, is now officially open.

Despite the downtime in one of Cambodia’s primary sectors, the national government continued bolstering existing facilities such as road infrastructure and waste management systems to prepare for an imminent return. 

As of last month, progress of the infrastructure development for the 38 Road Project in Siem Reap had reached 92.72 percent—exactly a year after the project launch, which has cost more than $149 million.

Coupled with aggressive vaccination drives for local residents as well as expats, the country has reached a vaccination rate of 81.2 percent, at par with First World countries such as South Korea and Japan. 

Moreover, by October the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation had announced the resumption of the tourist visa and visa exemption program, which would make it much easier for travelers to enter Cambodia and foster activity within tourist-dependent industries. The tourist e-visa scheme has also been available again since October 19. 

These set the backdrop for an auspicious transition into the new normal, as the high vaccination rates allowed the Kingdom to reopen for fully vaccinated tourists from overseas, without quarantine, last month. 

According to Chhay Sivlin, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, tourism was directly behind more than 12 percent of the economy, providing jobs to 630,000 in 2019. Loss of jobs is just among the various impacts of covid-19 on the country’s economy. 

However, as of December 8, nearly 20,000 hotel rooms are now listed as available in Siem Reap, a positive sign of recovery for the city’s tourism industry. Even services and restaurants have resumed operations, while certain new attractions are on the rise. 

One of these is the Angkor Eye Ferris Wheel, which brought a glimpse of festive lights to Siem Reap during the Water Festival in late November. This attraction had opened in March 1, 2020, but went temporarily defunct due to the pandemic. 

The Hariharalaya Retreat Centre, a spiritually-oriented accommodation, will also be moving and relaunching operations to a larger campus from their Bakong campus with two holiday retreats during Christmas and New Year. 

The café and restaurant industry is also getting collaborative, with the Little Red Fox Espresso Café hosting an art exhibition alongside their pre-opening on December 14, to be followed by the official opening on December 19. 

By April this year, the Kingdom has had an approved 2021-2025 roadmap to restore Cambodia’s tourism during and after the pandemic. 

The official reopening of Siem Reap comes just in time with the “Resilience & Restart” stage set for 2021, “Recovery” in 2022 and 2023; and “Relaunch” by 2025. Through this masterplan, the province alone anticipates 7.5 million international tourists and 940,000 in job generation. 

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