Becoming a member of the Club of the Most Beautiful Bays in the World comes with obvious rewards. For the Bay of Cambodia, which joined the elite club in 2011, it has contributed to an spectacular increase in the number of visitors to the Kingdom’s coastline. Since the induction, 70,000 international tourists and 2.7 million nationals have visited the country’s beach areas, a double digit increase yearly, according to a report released by the National Committee for the Management and Development of Cambodia’s Coastline (NCMDCC).
However, the honour of joining the prestigious club – whose eminent members include the Vietnamese bays of Halong, Lang Co-Hue and Nha Trang – also comes with responsibilities, the most important of which is to ensure that the natural beauty of these bays, the very reason they were selected to join the club, is not spoiled by heightened tourist interest.
To fulfil part of that obligation, on December 23 a conference was organised in Sihanoukville by the NCMDCC, the European Chamber of Commerce and the Cambodian Tourism Federation. Dubbed ‘The International Public-Private Conference on Cambodia’s Coastline Development’, it brought together over 300 representatives of the public, private and nonprofit sectors to discuss ways of ensuring the sustainable management and development of Cambodia’s coast.
Four panels, each addressing a distinct area of policies, were organised to discuss pertinent topics and come up with recommendations for the Cambodian government. With input from tourism experts, B2B Cambodia explains some of the major proposals that were put forward.
The role of ecotourism
The conference’s Panel on Tourism Development Plan and Basic Infrastructure Development Plan came up with a handful of key recommendations. It supported the government’s development strategies for all the different coastal areas, including plans to develop Kampot and Koh Kong as ecotourism destinations.
“The government understands the importance of ecotourism,” commented Carrol Sahaidak-Beaver, executive director of the Cambodia Hotel Association. “It is looking longer term on how resources are utilised and protecting the natural resources that exist,” she said, adding that the private sector also understood the importance of this type of tourism.
Likewise, the panel supported the development strategies for Preah Sihanouk province as a “multi-destination experience”, and the municipality of Kep as “a more exclusive destination”.
Furthermore, it recommend the government to expand the protected zones around watersheds to guarantee a sustainable supply of fresh water. The panel also suggested studies to gauge the possibility of turning certain protected zones into tourism destinations, as well as the potential of certain areas to become destinations for second home tourism. Finally, to ensure the efficient management of soft and solid waste, the conference proposed the creation of a public-private partnership mechanism to award the provision of waste collection services in the coastline to a private company.
The Panel on Master Plan and Legal Framework made a number of noteworthy propositions. It asked the government to consider the possibility of setting up special tourism zones along the shoreline.
Sahaidak-Beaver clarified what this classification actually entails, saying that “they are special areas set aside because of the natural resources that exist.” She noted that they “encourage responsible investment to protect these resources, while making them more accessible to be enjoyed by tourists, both domestic and international.” An example she provided is the Mekong river area, which has the potential of becoming one such zone.
The panel also recommended the authorities to prioritise development projects – such as tourism sites, housing, hospitals, transportation and waste collection services – and to rely on open bidding to promote the participation of the private sector. It also advised the government to initiate the development of a “pilot project” to gain experience in partaking in public-private partnership mechanisms.
A serious study to identify construction parameters and ensure the sustainability of coastline development was also put forward as a recommendation, as well as the need to establish an appropriate legal framework to encourage investment.
A place for a new port
The Panel on Connectivity highlighted the importance of building a new port in the coastline to enhance sea transportation and connectivity between the different provinces in the country, and between Cambodia and key regional tourism destinations. Particularly, it recommended a serious study on a location for a new port which, the panel concluded, should boast a passenger terminal of international standards.
Commenting on the prospect of a new port to service the area, Sahaidak-Beaver said that “the professional facilitation of ships, including cruises, is key to open the coast to more and more tourists”. She added that a port that is “more conducive to tourism” will boost visitors numbers.
Another concrete recommendation made by this panel was to focus on the development of domestic airports to better service key locations in the country and expand the number of destinations available within the Kingdom. To ease and streamline the transportation of goods, it encouraged airports to modernise their operations by replacing paper-based processes with digital systems.
Special incentives for international brands
Lastly, the Panel on Marketing and Promotion Strategy for Cambodia Coastal Tourism asked the government to consider the adoption of special incentives for companies that invest in international hotel brands, although it failed to specify what such incentives might be. The scheme would increase the quality and reputation of the local tourism market and attract more “high-quality visitors” and investors, the panel concluded.
As a final recommendation, it suggested the creation of a marketing tourism board, with the participation of the private sector, to study and promote Cambodian tourism.