Updated: Cambodia Removes Quarantine for Vaccinated Travelers

People in the lobby area of the Phnom Penh International Airport on March 11, 2020 (VOD)
People in the lobby area of the Phnom Penh International Airport on March 11, 2020 (VOD)

Prime Minister Hun Sen dropped quarantine requirements and overnight PCR tests after arrival for all vaccinated travelers from Monday, going beyond Thailand’s reopening to dozens of countries early this month.

In a speech posted to his Facebook page Sunday night, Hun Sen said he had decided to remove the quarantine requirements now that over 80 percent of Cambodia’s 16 million people are fully vaccinated.

The Health Ministry on Sunday night also sent out a letter reiterating the premier’s statement, noting that the reopening applies to arrivals by air, water and land. New arrivals in Cambodia would still need to take a PCR test within 72 hours of departing for Cambodia, but they would only need to take a rapid test when arriving in the country.

“For Cambodians or foreigners who want to come or visit in Cambodia who are fully vaccinated with 2 doses, [they] will not be required to quarantine anymore or get a PCR test,” he said. “But they need to take a rapid test with only 15 minutes waiting when they arrive.” 

Travelers who are not vaccinated still must quarantine for two weeks upon arrival, the premier said.

Those who are currently in quarantine — the duration of which was reduced to seven days for vaccinated travelers last month — are allowed to leave on Monday, the premier added.

Thailand, which reopened without quarantine to travelers from Cambodia and dozens of other destinations on November 1, still requires vaccinated visitors to stay in an approved hotel for one day while waiting for results of a PCR test.

Khek Norinda, communications director for Cambodia Airports, the agency controlling the country’s three operating airports, said Sunday’s decision gave a “brighter outlook” for the return of international tourists, but it would take some time for flights to return. He predicted a “gradual and steady increase in the coming months,” with heightened demand by the last quarter of 2022.

“We are confident that standards of operating set out by Cambodian authorities and the travel industry to welcome back visitors will be instrumental in coping with the growing number of travelers ahead,” he said.

Phnom Penh International Airport was scheduled to receive three flights on Monday — two from Singapore and a third from Guangzhou — with other flights scheduled to arrive from Taipei, Chengdu and Seoul in the next three days. Five arriving flights were scheduled on Tuesday and seven on Wednesday.

While flights from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines were allowed to enter as of last month, Norinda said airlines flying to those destinations had not yet scheduled flights. He expected those connections to return in December.

Chinese travelers might be slow to return, he said, as Chinese authorities have a “zero-tolerance” policy toward coronavirus and could limit or restrict travel.

Norinda said the airport operator is also discussing broadly opening Siem Reap and Sihanoukville airports to international flights, saying the decision to remove quarantine should “speed up” those discussions, without describing a time. Siem Reap’s airport had not received international flights since March 2020, while Sihanoukville accommodated “a trickle” of charter and scheduled flights from China, Norinda added.

“With yesterday’s announcement, airlines and tour operators are probably considering Cambodia as a destination with interesting opportunities, but we expect this recovery to be steady as confidence in travel rebuilds,” he said.

With time and cost of quarantine no longer stopping tourists, the only thing blocking travelers from visiting Cambodia is the travel requirements of their home country, said Chhay Sivlin, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents.

“People are eager to get back to traveling as soon as other countries begin to ease up their entry requirements,” she said.

However, she warned that some tourism destinations may take longer to recover, mentioning Siem Reap in particular.

“Some domestic tourism hubs are ready for travelers to return due to their yearslong experience, however, some businesses are also not ready, especially those in Siem Reap,” she said. “Siem Reap province still needs more time to be ready due to the ongoing infrastructure reconstruction as well,” adding that the road repairs are “said to be finished soon.”

In addition to the construction, Sivlin noted that many of the workers in the industry lost their jobs or changed industries, requiring businesses to recruit and train new staff. 

“Many tourism professionals have left to do other jobs in different industries, therefore tourism businesses would need to prepare to provide trainings for them, as well as resources to reconnect with their suppliers across the country to ensure a smooth and well-packaged tour programs for potential travelers,” she said.

Thailand’s Tourism Authority reported receiving 30,538 international arrivals in the first 10 days since the country reopened without quarantine for 63 countries, but only 65 percent of those arrivals entered through the quarantine-free program. In November 2019, Thailand received 3.36 million international arrivals.

Giulio D’Alberto, general manager of the Siem Reap luxury hotel Phum Baitang, said in an email that he didn’t expect customers to return immediately. But he expects to see a “steady increase as from mid to end January.”

He noted that the decision to open the country to Thailand did not impact their business, a Zannier hotel brand property that rents villas starting at $560 per night.

“Information is the biggest challenge in the immediate [future], as news needs to be spread out, then destination management companies, tour operators and travel agents need to get organized, and mostly airlines need to resume flights,” he said.

Green-eared barbet. (Wikimedia Commons)

Arthur Sim, business development manager for the Siem Reap-based bird sanctuary and ecotourism site Sam Veasna Conservation Tours, told VOD that the company is “ecstatic” for the reopening. The company had started marketing one-and-a-half day tours to Cambodians and foreigners in Siem Reap last week, but international tourists would be a welcome boost for the bird sanctuary.

“As soon as the quarantine was lifted, we’ve been sending out emails and getting very positive feedback and hope we’re getting international birders back to Cambodia in 2022,” he said.

International birders are a “get up and go” crowd who are pining to spot black-browed reed warblers, green-eared barbets and other native Cambodian birds, he said, noting that he expects some solo flyers might land before the year ends but more tours would kick off early next year. Sim said he was answering calls from tour operators for some months, inquiring whether Cambodia would reduce restrictions and reopen.

“I think we could have some international tour groups for our target market back in February or March next year, which is pretty grand, because the delay on this announcement left a lot of tour agencies calling every day in the season,” he said.

UPDATED Nov. 16 9:28 a.m.: Updated with a clarification on international flights at Sihanoukville and Siem Reap airports.

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