As countries in Southeast Asia and Australia look set to reopen their economies, Cambodia will need to get ready to live with Covid-19 and welcome back tourists.
After more than 20 months, it looks like Southeast Asian countries are looking to reopen their borders.
Thailand has announced that the country would be open to vaccinated travelers from ‘low-risk’ areas like the United Kingdom, Germany, Singapore, China and the United States – travelers will not need to undergo quarantine.
Meanwhile, Singapore has opened ‘vaccinated travel lanes’ with eight countries – Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.
At the end of last week, New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet declared that the Australian province of New South Wales would welcome fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents from overseas.
In Indonesia, Bali, the island province, has re-opened itself to travelers from 19 countries for a while now.
Of course, travelers are not going to rush to these locales just yet but it’s a heartening development for the tourism-related businesses that depend on passenger flows.
So why is Cambodia taking its time?
A vaccinated country, a recent outbreak
Currently, Cambodia has fully vaccinated 9.5 million adults. In many ways, it’s one of the safest places in the world.
However, Cambodia only recently came out of a COVID-19 outbreak that had earlier gripped the country into a nervous frenzy. What is known locally as the “February 20” incident saw Cambodia experience a COVID-19 epidemic in much the same way as other countries did last year.
In all the locations mentioned earlier, high levels of vaccination coupled with lockdown fatigue and anti-epidemic experience ensured that the authorities felt confident that they had the tacit permission of residents (excluding vocal minorities that continue to err on the side of the caution) to re-open borders and allow outsiders to enter the countries.
It was not a smooth journey. Governments that initially felt confident and loosened restrictions faced a backlash due to rising cases and had to backtrack. Singapore, for example, has recently tightened restrictions with only two people now being able to sit at a table at restaurants; unvaccinated residents are not allowed to enter food courts.
Still, Cambodia will need to take the plunge sooner than later, however.
“If the situation remains as it is for the next 10 to 15 days, then I think it is time to reopen the economy, and society, across all sectors under the new normal concept,” Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has stated. Tentatively, the country plans to open itself up to South Korean and Chinese travelers first, if recent reports in local media are to be believed.
The ensuing weeks after re-opening will be closely watched. Cambodia does not have quite the same infrastructure as other countries and could potentially struggle to deal with new variants if they emerge.
Not all companies are ready
That’s why it will be important for some companies to take the lead. The government and foreign travelers will likely look to Cambodian companies that have done a good job in handling the COVID-19 epidemic in Cambodia.
Travelers will feel nervous about walking around localities where the coronavirus could be hiding somewhere. Even if they are vaccinated, they would not want to be silent carriers and be suddenly placed in a mandatory quarantine or else attract the scrutiny of a disapproving public.
Meanwhile, Asian governments do not want to be drawn into international scandals if the treatment of infected foreign travelers attracts global attention in a hyper-interconnected world.
All it takes is a tweet or a video uploaded on Facebook for a country’s image to worsen in these fractious times. Should a country’s reputation take a hit, travelers will be even more hesitant.
Travelers will also be picky when choosing where to stay.
In many ways, the re-opening process offers a litmus test and will showcase the post-Covid readiness of Asian companies and nations.
Look to the past for resilience, look to the future for inspiration
In many ways, Cambodia’s re-opening process, if done right, could fast track its recovery. If it handles it well, people will feel confident in investing in Cambodia, whether in the form of a business decision, offering funds to the right local partner or simply buying a ticket to visit one of the many landmarks.
The country, one of the brightest spots among frontier markets in the pre-pandemic era, is eager to get its economic growth trajectory back on track.
Luckily, Cambodian companies fared quite well despite the COVID-19 epidemic.
For example, Prince Holding Group, a Cambodian conglomerate, won six awards, two of them for its COVID-19 response. It has won favor with the Cambodian government and is now one of the better known conglomerates in Cambodia.
Not only did it win awards, it recently announced an ambitious scholarship programme, the Chen Zhi scholarship, seeking to sponsor 400 Cambodian students.
It has partnered with the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Education, Caring for Cambodia and M’Lop Tapang and been a pillar of Cambodian society
Last year, Neak Oknha Chen Zhi, the chairman, donated 1 million vaccines to Cambodia’s vaccination efforts and is clearly one of the key players in Cambodian business.
Prince Group is also investing in Cambodian real estate actively and re-developing Ream Bay with the Ream City project, an 834-hectare coastal redevelopment effort that will redefine the landscape near the Sihanoukville airport.
Cambodia needs to re-open soon
Prince Holding Group is making a number of appointments and exudes an image of positivity.
It is one of many Cambodian companies keen to establish themselves as a force for good for development in a dynamic and vibrant region in the world.
Chen Zhi Prince Group recently also donated $1 million to help Laos deal with its escalating epidemic as well.
The confidence they display will surely travel across Cambodian society and even make life easier for the government as they can back any note of confidence communicated by elected leaders to the outside world.
In Cambodia, tourism accounted for 17.8 percent of the economy in 2018.
You can bet that companies like Prince Holding Group are making plans to ensure travelers are greeted with enthusiasm when they come. Best practices will also have emerged in hospitality and real estate management to ensure a safe experience for visitors and locals alike.
Cambodia needs to re-open soon and, hopefully, Southeast Asia can show the way forward for the rest of the world as well.