Cambodia is hoping that Chinese tourists will drive its tourism growth when the world is cleared of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tourism Minister Thong Khon said on Saturday.

Khon said the COVID-19 pandemic had made profound impact on the country’s tourism. However, he was optimistic that Chinese tourists would support the kingdom’s tourism growth when the coronavirus is over.

The minister said mutual help and trust between the two countries in the fight against COVID-19 has not only deepened bilateral ties, but also earned praise from the two countries.

“The visit of Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen to Beijing in February during the virus outbreak has received lavish praise from the Chinese people, and through this visit, I believe that more Chinese people will spend their holidays in Cambodia when the COVID-19 crisis is over,” Khon told Xinhua.

China has become the largest source of foreign tourists to Cambodia since 2017. Cambodia’s tourism industry, which amounted to 4.92 billion U.S. dollars, is currently being hit hardest by the ravaging pandemic. A tourism data showed that Cambodia received a total of 223,400 foreign tourists in March, a decrease of 65 percent over the same month last year.

Air passenger numbers dropped by more than 90 percent in April, according to the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation, while ticket sales at Cambodia’s world famous Angkor archeological park fell by 99 percent in April.

Secretary of state and spokesman of the Tourism Ministry Top Sopheak said, “Before COVID-19, the Angkor archeological park in Siem Reap province received up to 9,000 foreign tourists a day, but now, it gets only 20 per day and those are foreigners living and working in Cambodia.”

To be ready to receive Chinese tourists during the post-COVID-19 era, Cambodia will continue to promote the “China Ready” strategy and urge tourism businesses and other tourism destinations to further implement health and safety measures for all tourists, he said.

Cambodia has banned entry of foreign visitors from six countries – the United States, Italy, Germany, Spain, France, and Iran – since mid-March and has imposed entry restrictions for all foreigners since March 30 to curb COVID-19.

Chhay Sivlin, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA), said all tour and travel companies across the kingdom have suspended their businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, affecting more than 30,000 employees.

“Although Cambodia has detected no new COVID-19 cases for over one month, there are still only a few foreign tourists coming to the country because they’re still scared of the virus and our travel restrictions remain in effect,” she told Xinhua.

Sivlin agreed that Chinese tourists will be the main driver of tourism growth in Cambodia after the pandemic, and tour and travel companies will unveil new tour packages to attract Chinese tourists when the pneumonia-causing virus is over.

“We will design our strategy again to attract tourists during the post-COVID-19 era, and the strategy will focus on hygiene, health and social distancing on buses and in restaurants,” she said.

Clais Chenda, president of the Cambodia Hotel Association, which represents about 250 hotels in the country, said almost all of the hotels have either partially or completely suspended their businesses due to the virus.

She said her two hotels, Terres Rouges in Ratanakiri province and Rajabori Villa in Kratie province, have also been closed temporarily as there were no customers.

“Our tourism mainly depends on foreign tourists. Due to the pandemic, there are very few foreigners coming to Cambodia at this time, so most of the hotels have been temporarily closed,” she said. “Currently, we are negotiating with landlords who lease premises to hotels to reduce their rental prices in order to enable us to survive this difficult time.”

Chenda said for the hotels that are still open during the COVID-19 pandemic, the association has advised them to stick to health and hygiene measures by screening guests’ temperatures routinely, providing them with alcohol or antibacterial gel for handwashing, and keeping social distancing among them.