Cambodia’s ‘scamdemic’ reputation scares off travelers from China

Tourism becomes collateral damage as authorities struggle to tackle online gangs.

Cambodia’s emergence as a haven for online scam gangs that traffic people into forced labor has seriously damaged its reputation in China, hurting efforts to rebuild the Southeast Asian country’s vital tourism industry following the pandemic, say sources in the sector.

Prior to the pandemic, China was Cambodia’s largest source of international arrivals, something its government wants to see again, particularly with expensive new airports coming online in Siem Reap this year and Phnom Penh in 2025. The Ministry of Tourism has launched China Ready, a certification program for hotels to meet “Chinese standards,” and hopes to attract up to 1 million Chinese visitors this year.

But the small, tourism-dependent nation faces a major problem as it competes with rival low-cost destinations to draw visitors from the world’s largest outbound travel market, which was worth $255 billion in 2019. Cambodia’s image has been tarnished by its links to scam syndicates, with a recent blockbuster film further propelling the murky sector into China’s national consciousness.

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