The Cuban Ambassador to Cambodia H.E. Liurka Rodriguez Barrios has presented her island nation as a destination of choice for travelers from Cambodia hosting an event with the Cambodian travel association.
Attendees included several key stakeholders in the Cambodian outbound tourism sector including Sivlin Chhay, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA), Lav Heng of VLK Travel and Hem Chanly of Hola Travel among others.
To read our interview with the Cuban Ambassador click here.
The presentation included a promotional video showcasing the main tourist attractions of Cuba, a Q&A session on the logistics of arranging travel from Cambodia to the country, as well as a working lunch.
Overcoming perceived barriers
Being over 16,000 kilometers from Cambodia one issue raised by Sivlin Chhay was how groups could get to Cuba and whether they would be put off by what would in essence be a two-day journey just to get there.
In response H.E. Liurka Rodriguez Barrios explained that since the end of the Trump administration direct flights were now possible from the United States and Mexico, meaning that tours to Cuba could be combined with other countries.
Cuba has been under an almost 60-year embargo from the United States which had forbidden almost all travel to the communist state.
Another issue bought up by Lav Heng of VLK Travel was cost comparison for package tours, with European trips costing around the same amount, but offering visitors the chance to visit five, or more countries.
H.E. Liurka Rodriguez Barrios replied that while Cuba was of course only one country, the diversity of the island state, which includes some of the best beaches in the world, colonial architecture, a famous culture and even rain forests meant that it was easy to fill a two-week itinerary.
Cambodia and Cuba open
Cuba was one of the first countries in the world to fully reopen its borders to tourism back in November 2020 and has managed almost 100 percent vaccination using its own indigenously made vaccines.
According to the ambassador Cuba expects to receive around 1.5 million visitors in 2022, far below the 4.2 million it received in 2019 but also marking it as one of the best-recovered countries within the region.
For logistical and cost reasons few of these visitors have been from Cambodia, with numbers limited to the hundreds rather than thousands before the pandemic.
Despite this, the ambassador remained optimistic stating: “We have traditionally attracted a lot of guests from China, so feel that we can do the same with Cambodia. Wherever I go I find that Cambodians know a lot about Cuba and of course, we have a strong historical friendship”.
Cuba is one of the few “visa-free” nations for Cambodian passport holders, with visitors merely needing a tourist card, which the ambassador explained could be provided to registered travel agents, without the need to apply for a visa.
Most importantly perhaps she also explained that Cuba does not stamp the passports of incoming, or outgoing visitors, something of particular concern for Cambodian-Americans, or those wishing to travel to the US at a later date.
Despite limited trade, Cuba and Cambodia are involved in several cultural exchanges, which include Cambodian students studying medicine on the island.
As to moving forward Sivlin Chhay of CATA stated that “This meeting will help us be able to promote Cuba and we look forward to doing this over the coming years as the world gets back to normal”.
It was also agreed in principle that a Free As Marketing (FAM) trip would be arranged by the embassy shortly for Cambodian travel agents to be able to see the country firsthand.