Siem Reap, Cambodia Chheut Dina was about to clean up her Siem Reap International Airport shift when she was told not to return to work.
After 10 months without hospitality, the airport terminated its contract with Dina’s employer in December 2020, forcing her to reduce the amount of money she was spending on her seven-person family and repay the $ 11,000 she had taken before the epidemic. HCC Angkor, a cleaning company owned by most of France Vinci Corporation, reduced the work of Dina and her friends to one month a year due to the COVID-19 ban.
“Sometimes when my children are not in school they go to the lake, the river or the sea to kill fish, snails and vegetables, so we spend less money than we do. [before] but we eat less food than before, ”Dina told Al Jazeera.
With support from his organization, Dina and other HCC employees complained to the company, frustrated that management had refused to confirm whether they had been fired or simply suspended.
Uncertainty about their future has been alarming since the airport began receiving flights from other countries following the country’s reopening of borders for visitors who were vaccinated last month.
“If he wants to remove us from the contract, he has to pay us compensation according to the rules, then we should look at another job offer or compensation,” said Dina. “This creates a vague picture, we don’t really know what’s going on.”
Although Cambodia has reopened to international travelers, its tourist destination in Siem Reap, home to UNESCO World Heritage Site Angkor Wat, remains a tourist attraction and a long and unexpected way to recover from the epidemic.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen stepped up its efforts to rehabilitate all vaccinated people on November 15 – the phase of the reopening of Thailand, which this week again brought seven to 10 days of isolation for immigrants, with the exception of those who visit the sandbox. Phuket in response to Omicron. different.
The arrivals, however, have been small and medium-sized. Before Singapore Airlines resumed operations last week, the city airport had not seen a single international airline for 20 weeks.
Even before the epidemic, Siem Reap, which relied heavily on missing Chinese tourist groups, was showing signs of exhaustion, while ticket sales at Angkor Archaeological Park dropped by 8.3 percent in 2019 compared to last year, according to the World Bank.
Khek Norinda, director of communications for Cambodia Airports, told Al Jazeera visitors that it dropped by 12.4 percent in 2019 compared to 2018, before continuing during the epidemic. Before Singapore Airlines resumed operations last week, the city airport had not seen a single international airline for 20 weeks.
While predicting a gradual recovery, Norinda said the return of the plane shows she still has a “desire” to visit Siem Reap.
“Also, the experience of visiting temples without crowds and crowds can be helpful,” he said.
Thourn Sinan, a Cambodian ambassador to the Pacific Asia Travel Association, told Al Jazeera that the government had not clearly stated its position on the epidemic, leaving its companies unresponsive.
“They have the best plans for all companies,” he said. “But the other side is the time of the plague [continuing], they will not make decisions on their own. ”
During the epidemic, the government wants to beautify the city, widen roads and build roads and walkways in front of Angkor Wat, an impressive temple printed on Cambodian coins.
Many businesses around the popular tourist attractions – surrounded by family-run restaurants, clothing stores, and artists displaying art and other memorabilia – complain that the renovation has cost them customers.
An alcoholic beverage outside Angkor Wat told Al Jazeera that small businesses are suffering, despite the spirit of cooperation between the vendors who chose to remain in the park.
He said he felt guilty for paying $ 150 a month for his house: “I want to make all the money. [I can] but I am not happy, for it is not easy for them, as it is for us. ”
Sinan, a representative of the Pacific Asia Travel Association, said he was skeptical that Cambodian tourism would return to the levels of a five- to seven-year epidemic, although he knew tourists who had invested in their business as a result of reopening the border.
“The new money they have [businesses] to put it, this is probably the last investment [possible] to them, but if there is no foreign exchange for them, they will just lose it, ”he said.
At the start of the strike, the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training promised to lay off workers’ jobs in the tourism industry with $ 40 a month and force their employers to pay another $ 30 a month. Aside from criticizing the aid was not enough, union leaders complained that many workers were not provided with the assistance.
Dina, an airport cleaner, said she was unable to receive COVID-19 donations or medical aid through a national security fund, making it difficult to pay for her aging parents.
“Sometimes we don’t even have the money to do so, so we borrow to meet to get it,” he says.
Norinda said Cambodian Airports wanted to prioritize the health of its employees during the epidemic, but “unfortunately” had to end its relationship with HCC in Siem Reap.
With Cambodia reporting fewer cases of COVID-19 – no more than 25 cases every day since the beginning of December – domestic tourism, especially in ecotourism page, has provided light relief for the industry.
Chhay Sivlin, President of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents, told Al Jazeera that more domestic tourists have visited the Siem Reap temples, but tend to spend less money compared to foreign tourists.
“The visiting culture of the Cambodian people [is that they] they do not see the need to hire travelers and do not need the help of tourists, ”he said.
Sinan said he did not believe the city could rely on the return of Chinese tourists, who are more interested in living without COVID in China than in “new” elsewhere.
He also said that Southeast Asian countries could fill the vacancy if they learned from Europe, where most people spend their summer vacations on vaccination passports.
“I think ASEAN should recover quickly in terms of tourism like ASEAN [members] they can trust each other, ”he said.
‘Waiting for strangers’
In the meantime, residents of Siem Reap should make an effort to overcome the difficulties.
Prior to the plague, Doung Visith was earning about $ 50 each time he visited Angkor Wat. Today, Visith, who works part-time with a hospitality company, spends the morning trying to persuade the locals to lend her a short $ 20 sunrise trek, before lunch inviting guests to the newly established restaurants and shops. in front of the temple.
Although they greatly appreciate the nature of the park, they yearn to be a part of it.
“We are safe, waiting for the tourists to come,” he said.