This may seem out of context for a nation where 95 percent of the population is Buddhist, but by the beginning of December, seasonal decorations including Christmas trees are seen almost everywhere, from coffee shops, to book stores, supermarkets and other businesses.
With Cambodia home to approximately 100,000 expatriates and a multitude of international shopping chains, the Christmas season has gained steam, with some locals starting to join in the celebrations and others taking advantage of its business opportunities.
To that end, businesses are pulling out all the stops by offering discounts across the board to boost sales over the Christmas period.
Penn Sovicheat, the undersecretary of state and spokesperson at the Ministry of Commerce (MoC), explained that the Christmas period is a good opportunity to promote sales, either through clearance or end-of-year promotions.
“It is becoming more common for shoppers to use this special occasion to spend their money on gifts, [which triggers an upturn] in sales,” said Sovicheat.
“Although Cambodia is a Buddhist country, both the Christian community and people in general enjoy celebrating the holiday season and welcoming the upcoming New Year. Amid this spirit of celebration, shoppers can take advantage of the savings opportunities that sellers provide with holiday discounts offered to attract their attention.”
He added, “We welcome this tradition because it is a sign of vibrant business opportunities for the retail and hospitality sector. We do need to remind people that both shoppers and sellers must strictly observe the ‘new normal’ as instructed by the Ministry of Health, to keep social distancing, frequently clean their hands and always wear a face mask everywhere they go.”
The holiday shopping season is well under way as big name retailers drop their prices and ‘mom-and-pop’ style vendors join in by selling Christmas decorations and outfits, restaurants offer multiple courses of festive-themed meals and even the near-dormant tourism sector takes advantage of the festivities by dangling discounts on hotel stays to lure people who have time off work.
Liam Fisher, co-owner of Reef resort on Koh Rong Island, a popular tourist destination in the south of Cambodia, explained that while the islands have been quiet throughout the year, they see Christmas as a time to bring in needed revenue.
“The Christmas holiday season is usually our peak period but because of COVID-19 and the travel restrictions, we have not seen either the traffic or income that comes with it yet this year. There are a lot of expats, as well as locals, who get some time off over Christmas and we do expect the island to be busier as Christmas and New Year approach. We already have a lot of bookings for that period because we have offered promotions on our beachfront bungalows,” Fisher said.
Aeon mall, Cambodia’s biggest shopping outlet, is full with sale signs, with some shops offering up to 70 percent discounts on goods. One shopper, who introduced herself as Kata, said she was making the most out of the Christmas sales savings and buying Christmas gifts for her family.
“There are a lot of sales across the city on lots of different items right now. I have bought gifts for my children because they have learned about Christmas at school. I’ve done the same the last two years and it has become a bit of a trend. We even have Christmas decorations in our home. When I was a child this did not happen, but our family has now got into the Christmas habit.”