- Excellencies, Ministers and Tourism Leaders of ASEAN Member States;
- Excellencies, Leaders of the World Tourism Organization and ASEAN Tourism Association;
- Excellencies, Ladies, Gentlemen, National and International Guests!
To begin, I would like to express my warm welcome to the presence of all national and international delegates at the 40th ASEAN Tourism Forum 2022, which will be held from 16 to 22 January 2022 under the theme “ASEAN – A Community of Peace and Shared Future” in Sihanoukville Province, the Kingdom of Cambodia.
I highly appreciate the efforts of all international delegates to travel to participate in the ASEAN Tourism Forum 2022 by land and air, even though it consumes a long time and requires completing additional travel procedures in the context of COVID-19. This participation really shows the common commitment, solidarity and friendship in the development and revitalization of the tourism sector to recover from the COVID-19 crisis in the spirit of bringing prosperity and growth to ASEAN people, and achieving the ASEAN vision of “One Community, One Destiny”.
For the past two years, the COVID-19 crisis has caused devastating socio- economic impacts, especially on the tourism sector, which has led to a sharp decline in the number of tourists in each country, region as well as the whole world. This crisis has slowed down the growth of the tourism sector, tourism leaders in the public and private sectors and the international community must then reconsider policies to develop the Adaptive Business Model, as well as the human capital development plan in the tourism sector in the context of living with COVID-19 in a new normal, as well as in the context of the post COVID-19 crisis. Clearly, the tourism sector will face new trends in the needs to develop digital socio-economy, tackle climate change and deepen the consideration for global public health.
Cambodia is very pleased to see the gradual reopening of countries in the region and the world, and especially the solidarity and active cooperation among ASEAN people, partner countries and international institutions in responding to common regional and global challenges. In this spirit, Cambodia highly appreciates ASEAN Tourism Ministers for strengthening cooperation and exchanging experiences in responding to the COVID-19 crisis and introducing the post-COVID-19 Recovery Plan for ASEAN Tourism, Phnom Penh Declaration on a More Sustainable, Inclusive and Resilient ASEAN Tourism, as well as other strategic plans, work programs and guidelines of ASEAN in line with the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework (ACRF).
- Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen!
Like other countries around the world, Cambodia has also been severely hit by the COVID-19 crisis, especially the tourism supply chain which has been almost completely cut off. In fact, many tourism businesses were shut down, and tens of thousands of employees lost their jobs. The COVID-19 crisis also caused the losses of some skills and talents, as well as many other direct and indirect negative effects.
Nevertheless, with proactivity and long-term vision, the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) has effectively controlled the spread of COVID-19, particularly through the Strategic Plan for the COVID-19 National Vaccination Campaign to Build Socio-Economic Herd Immunity in Cambodia by 2021. As of 10 January 2022, Cambodia has achieved a vaccination coverage rate of more than 89% and has administered booster shots to approximately 25% of the total population of around 16 million people. This has allowed Cambodia to reopen the country across all sectors on 1 November 2021.Additionally, Cambodia has begun to welcome fully-vaccinated international tourists, without any requirement for quarantine, since 14 November 2021.
To ensure the effectiveness of the reopening of the country, the RGC has launched the Strategy of Living in a New Normal in the Context of COVID-19 on 12 November 2021 and the Strategic Framework and Programs for Economic Recovery in the Context of Living with COVID-19 in a New Normal 2021-2023 on 16 December 2021. As far as the tourism sector is concerned, the RGC has introduced the Strategic Plan for the Opening of Vaccine Tourism and the Policy Measures to Promote Domestic Tourism 2021 – 2023 on 23 October 2021.
- Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen!
In the spirit of continuing to strengthen ASEAN relations, as well as supporting and encouraging efforts to develop regional tourism towards a common future and prosperity in line with the theme “ASEAN – A Community of Peace and Shared Future”, and together with the vision of “Thinking about the People, the Economy, and the Future”, I would like to share some thoughts as follows:
Firstly, it has been assessed that the gradual reopening of full socio-economic activities is in a state of urgency and must be in line with the new normal for all ASEAN countries due to the narrowing of the tourism market, along with increased competition in terms of quality of products and services, prices, confidence in the safety of tourist destinations, measures to control the spread of COVID-19, and travel facilitation. These points are the key factors for tourists’ decisions in choosing destinations in a new context. In this regard, the Post-COVID-19 Recovery Plan for ASEAN Tourism will be a key strategy for the gradual reopening of international tourism, based on the principle of maintaining the balance between socio-economic activities and safety and public health, with efforts to return the daily life of the people to the “New Normal” as soon as possible;
Secondly, I support the initiative for ASEAN countries to implement health measures in the tourism industry, which is a key mechanism contributing to the resumption of tourism businesses and the fight against COVID-19, through the implementation of common principles to the maximum. Cambodia is currently effectively implementing the “Tourism Safety Measures” and the “Standard Operating Procedures – SOP” for the opening of tourism businesses in the new normal;
Thirdly, in the short-term, ASEAN must consider further promoting internal tourism movements within ASEAN in line with the view of “ASEAN for ASEAN”, and Cambodia fully supports the initiatives to reopen tourism within ASEAN as well as to reopen the whole region to welcome international tourists. On behalf of Cambodia and as the Chair of ASEAN, I would like to support the ASEAN Tourism Ministers to discuss and agree to announce the reopening of ASEAN Tourism tomorrow from Sihanoukville of Cambodia. At the same time, for the sake of success in the reopening of international tourism, it is necessary to ensure the credibility and confidence that “ASEAN Tourist Destinations are safe”, supported by vaccination rates as a key indicator. In this regard, I would like to support the “Vaccine Tourism” program launched in ASEAN countries, and to support the launch of the campaign of “ASEAN, a Warm and Safe Tourist Destination”. I would like to call on the ASEAN Tourism Ministers and ASEAN health institutions to study and develop a common system for the certification of full vaccination (Vaccination Passport or Digital Health Pass) in the ASEAN region. I would also like to request ASEAN to consider gradually easing travel restrictions in line with the principle of high vigilance.
Fourthly, ASEAN Tourism Ministers, ASEAN partners countries and leaders of the World Tourism Organization as well as the ASEAN Tourism Association should continue to strengthen human capital development, to strive to implement existing cooperation frameworks, as well as to increase exchanges of good experiences in attracting and developing talents by taking into account the promotion of digital literacy and young entrepreneurs and the support of handicraft and small and medium enterprises in the tourism sector at the local level, and to take advantages ofinnovation, digital connectivity and the Industrial Revolution 4.0 for the development of smart, sustainable and inclusive ASEAN tourism.
And Lastly, ASEAN must work together to promote the recovery of a resilient tourism sector and move towards a better quality, sustainable and inclusive future. In this regard, I would like to call on ASEAN to continue to strengthen and expand cooperation with dialogue and development partners, and to build public-private partnerships (PPPs) in the countries, regions and the world, to achieve the development of a resilient tourism in a new normal and to bring prosperity to the whole ASEAN.
[Start of Off-the-Cuff Comment]
ASEAN in 2022 to Continue Efforts to Prevent Covid-19 and Reopen Corridors
Let me highlight here a bit. In the past two years, each country has taken separate measures required by the situation at that time. Each country is working to prevent Covid-19 in its own country, including closing land, water and air borders. This is the case in many countries around the world, including our ASEAN countries. Such a situation has severely affected trade facilitation as well as tourism, especially the traveling corridors within the ASEAN framework. A few weeks ago, I had a discussion with the Indonesian Foreign Minister, and yesterday I discussed with the Secretary-General of ASEAN the continuation of efforts in 2022 to prevent Covid-19 on one side and on the other the need to reopen travel within the ASEAN region.
This is a way to reconnect people to people in the framework of tourism as well as in the framework of business and trade between/among our ASEAN countries. The previous stage was when we had not yet had large coverage of vaccination. Now it is a stage that we have a large coverage of vaccination. We have come to recognize each other’s status of vaccination. Cambodia is implementing its rapid test procedure, only 15 or 20 minutes, for visitors vaccinated with two basic doses. After which, they can leave and travel anywhere. This has also reduced the travel difficulties of people in the ASEAN region.
We also commend the Kingdom of Thailand for its previous practice with Cambodia, in which Cambodians going to Thailand do not have to stay in quarantine and Thais coming to Cambodia do not have to have quarantine too. Later, we implemented a worldwide framework (that anyone with basic doses of Covid-19 vaccines) are not subject to quarantine. We will do quarantine only for those unvaccinated. It is not a punishment for them. We need to protect both the people of Cambodia and the people of ASEAN. Anyone has not yet vaccinated cannot travel. I could be the first person to have used this language about the obligatory vaccination.
Cambodians are willing to have vaccination. Even the five-year-olds kids are taking vaccination without coercion. In other countries, there is (practically) a vaccine obligation. In the United States, it seemed, the US Supreme Court has blocked President Joe Biden’s rule requiring (workers at large companies) to be vaccinated (or masked and tested weekly). We do not know what will happen to this situation. For ASEAN, I am very proud that we have all come together here, and those who have come here, I do not know, upon returning to your country, if you will go through quarantines or not. However, as you have all come here, you are welcomed without quarantines and can travel anywhere.
I would like to prioritize the work of ASEAN in 2022 to continue the fight with Covid-19 and to work on re-opening of the socio-economic and the corridor of travel within the framework of ASEAN, initiated by Indonesia. I hope that our ASEAN Tourism Ministers will contribute to the preparation of travel corridors for tourism within our framework of ASEAN and within the framework of ASEAN partners.
More Works for ASEAN in 2022 than Just Myanmar
I would like to emphasize that the works of ASEAN in 2022 is not just about Myanmar, as many have said in the last three weeks or so. Let me say that we have a lot of work to do besides Myanmar. ASEAN is not a hostage to Myanmar problem. This is a brief emphasis to guide observers of our thinking within the framework of the region. I am delighted that HE Lim Jock Hoi, Secretary-General of ASEAN, has met with Cambodian partners that have well-functioning communities in politics and security, economy, and culture to prepare for the success of the Cambodian Chair of ASEAN in 2022.
I would like to emphasize that the ASEAN agenda is not only one problem (about Myanmar). We have many issues to address, including how to revive tourism in the context of Covid-19. As of present, we are not certain yet what Covid-19 would become. The Spanish Prime Minister has insisted (it is time to start) treating Covid-19 as an “endemic illness” like the flu. I seem to be supportive of the evolution to live with Covid-19. However, we must be careful and have vaccination to prevent the disease. Although it may be treating as the common flu, vaccination, wearing a mask, washing hands and keeping a distance are still required measures […]
[End of Off-the-Cuff Comment]
On behalf of Cambodian people and the RGC, I would like to express my gratitude to Excellencies, Ministers and Leaders of ASEAN member states, Leaders of the World Tourism Organization, ASEAN Tourism Association and national and international tourism companies for supporting Cambodia in organizing the 40th ASEAN Tourism Forum 2022. As the Chair of ASEAN for the third time in 2022, Cambodia will promote, accelerate and harmonize efforts to revitalize all sectors to build a sustainable, inclusive and resilient ASEAN community after the COVID-19 crisis in line with the theme “ASEAN A.C.T.: Addressing Challenges Together”.
Finally, I wish that this forum will be fruitful and successful, and would like to wish all the delegates a safe, comfortable, joyful and memorable stay on the coastal land of the “the Rising Star of the Southwest” of Cambodia, “the Kingdom of Wonder”, which is a member of the world’s best beach club.
I would also like to wish Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen the four gems of Buddha’s blessing: longevity, nobility, health and strength. I would like to announce the opening of the 40th ASEAN Tourism Forum 2022 from now on.