How The Public And Private Sectors In Cambodia Are Getting Ready For A Post-Covid Era

Neak Oknha Chen Zhi

Cambodia’s rapid-fire recovery has only been possible by the resilience shown by regional governmental bodies and the dynamism of the private sector.

Cambodia has launched a Siem Reap provincial tourism development master plan 2021-2035 aiming to make the northwestern province a major tourist destination in Southeast Asia as the country continues to open up following a remarkably successful vaccination drive.

Speaking at the launching event held via videoconference, Deputy Prime Minister Aun Pornmoniroth said the master plan was crucial to develop the tourism industry in Siem Reap in the long run.

“It will play an important role to promote the quality, safety and sustainable development of the tourism industry in the province in the post-COVID-19 pandemic era,” he said.

The launch came as Health Minister Bunheng said in a press statement that Cambodia had lifted a ban on all flights from Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines after most of the kingdom’s population were vaccinated against Covid-19.

As of October 23, Cambodia vaccinated 99.71% of the adult population of 10 million, 90.59% of the 12-17 age group of nearly two million and 100% of the 6-11 group of nearly 1.9 million.

Tourism Minister Thong Khon said the master plan prescribed seven key strategic areas for the province’s tourism development – the development of major tourist sites, tourism products, promoting (national and provincial) tourism, environmental management, infrastructure, connectivity and tourism governance.

It’s a great note of positivity at a time when there’s clearly a need for good news.

Not just provincial governments, there have been rising stars in Cambodia’s corporate scene as well – One company that has worked relentlessly to bring Cambodia out of the COVID-19 crisis is Prince Holding Group, one of the country’s largest conglomerates. A related unit, Canopy Sands Development, is even working on one of the first sustainable real estate development projects of its kind in Cambodia – Ream City in Sihanoukville.

Via its subsidiaries, Prince Holding Group has over 80 businesses in Cambodia operating in real estate development, banking, finance, aviation, tourism, logistics, technology, food and beverages, and lifestyle.

From the outset of the pandemic, Prince Group, led by the Cambodian-Chinese entrepreneur Neak Oknha Chen Zhi, have ensured its employees were safe and continued its business operations even when many other companies closed down or temporarily halted operations.

Such good stories among the public and the private sector need to be highlighted as the world slowly recovers and gets to a better place.

Successful regional tourism can benefit other regions

Siem Reap, the home of the Angkor Archeological Park, a world heritage site, naturally attracts tourists every year. Prior to COVID-19, the 401-square-km ancient park received 2.2 million international tourists in 2019 earning a gross revenue of 99 million dollars from ticket sales.

However, due to the pandemic, the park attracted only 6,167 foreigners in the first nine months of 2021, down 98.4 percent year-on-year, the Angkor Enterprise said.

Still, all the hard work should bring the tourists back, especially as Cambodia looks set to be one of the first countries to open up to the rest of the world. The reopening of the e-Visa scheme for tourists and investors, a relaxation of the quarantine period for incoming travelers and a new QR code system for checking vaccination status has already been announced.

Tourists will surely be wary at first but when they feel safe, they will soon spread the word on social media and the rest of the world should come.

A recent announcement of the full reopening of the education system is an important milestone as it has brought a lot of joy locally.

It also helps that Cambodia’s neighbor has announced massive easing of restrictions that will force the bureaucracy to speed up its activities – Thailand has announced that any vaccinated national from 46 countries wanting to enter Thailand for economic or other purposes would be permitted to enter without quarantine.

Meanwhile, a superb opportunity for Cambodian enterprise

Cambodia has been able to match up to Thailand’s ambition because of resilient corporate enterprises like Prince Group.

Whether it’s offices, supermarkets, construction sites or airlines, Prince Group subsidiaries ensured Cambodia’s economy did not suffer from too steep a fall. It has arguably provided a big boost to real estate

Prince Group Chairman Chen Zhi Cambodia, for example, donated substantial sums of money – he contributed US$3 million to the Cambodian government’s anti-pandemic efforts in March on top of the US$3 million donated by the Group last December to help Cambodia purchase 1 million COVID-19 vaccines – and has shown how he means business.

Meanwhile, Prince Charitable Foundation, the charitable arm of Prince Group, has provided essential food to underprivileged families living in areas where there have been outbreaks, launched scholarship schemes and generally played a sterling example as a corporate foundation.

Although Prince Group mostly has operations in Sihanoukville, a beach and MICE destination, and Phnom Penh, it is growing aggressively across the country.

Tourists and investors look for best-in-class solution providers

Such corporate resilience helped Siem Reap’s decision makers take the charge and aspire for growth.

In this regard, the work done by the government to promote Siem Reap and the Angkor Archeological Park will surely have boosted the tourism sector’s long-term potential.

Of course, it would be hard for foreigners and investors to know straight away about Cambodia’s future plans and the corporate titans that emerge. If they ensure a safe and sustainable experience and consistently garner good press and improve the image of Cambodia’s provinces then they will surely make a difference.

Tourists and investors alike will probably reach out to locals for advice and counsel and therefore Cambodian companies need to be prepared to show a good account of themselves every single day. Investment in Cambodia could bounce if everything goes according to plan.

Cambodia might even be able to teach the rest of the developing world how it learnt from the pandemic and took care of its people at a difficult time.

Ultimately, Siem Reap’s growth and the growth of Cambodian corporates will also be good for Southeast Asia’s overall recovery and the business activity in the region. Tellingly, the minister had also stated: “The [Siem Reap] master plan aims to transform Siem Reap province into the most popular tourist destination in Cambodia and a main tourist destination in the Southeast Asian region.”

More regional governments should show resolve and drive like the Siem Reap provincial government and Cambodian conglomerate Prince Group.

According to the masterplan presented by the deputy prime minister, Siem Reap is expected to attract 7.5 million international tourists and 10.9 million domestic tourists by 2035, creating some 940,000 jobs and generating about US$5.9 billion.

Hopefully, all of that transpires so that the hard work bears dividends ensuring the pandemic becomes nothing more than a distant memory after a few years.

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