Ecotourism Has Potential to Expand

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Tourism, ecotourism, Cambodia, Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Education
The tourism sector has potential but currently lacks direction to develop ecotourism, say industry experts.

As more tourists favour nature resorts and jungle trekking, companies and conservationists are considering how to define, develop and expand ecotourism and coastal tourism in the Kingdom.

Cambodia is the fastest-growing tourist destination among Vietnam-based travel agency Asia DMC’s Southeast Asian offerings and ranked second-most popular location after Vietnam, according to founder Tran Thanh Nam. About 3,000 people traveled to Cambodia in the first five months of this year with Nam’s agency, and he expects to assist about 10,000 travellers see the country by the end of 2017.

The majority of clients who booked travel through Asia DMC wanted to visit Angkor Archaeological Park, but Nam believes Cambodia has the potential to increase ecotourism to other provinces by outlining clearly what the country has to offer. “Everybody talks about ecotourism, but what exactly is it for you?” he questioned. “You have to raise standards, areas and roadmaps for that, from not only the government but the industry and its clients. You have beach, jungle and water; you can develop a lot of products on that.”

Last week, the environment and tourism ministries announced plans to create a national ecotourism policy, according to the Tourism Ministry’s Facebook page, though the post didn’t venture any definition of ecotourism. Discussions about the policy, focused on how to develop tourist destinations at the same time as protecting the environmental resources upon which tourism companies rely may be  under way.

“The ecotourism development effort started since 2008, and now the purpose is to promote the practice further, to make ecotourism areas in the country develop along the line with what the private sector is doing,” said Hor Vandy, co-chair of the Government-Private Sector Working Group on Tourism.

Foreigner visits to coastal and ecotourism sites rose by about 6 percent between 2014 and last year, behind the 11 percent growth rate of general tourism, according to statistics from the Ministry of Tourism.

Seng Bunny, managing director of Eurasie travel agency, said last year that travel to Cambodia’s mountainous provinces increased reflecting the growth of nature tourism. The company, which has offices in Phnom Penh and Paris, has seen a 30 percent increase in trekking and community homestay packages to provinces such as Stung Treng, Mondolkiri, Ratanakkiri and Siem Reap over the past three years, Bunny said. “Our business has decreased recently from Europe overall, however the demand of nature tours in particular has increased since 2013 consecutively until now,” he explained.

Alison Curry, sales and marketing adviser for the Sam Veasna Centre for Wildlife Conservation, said via mail that the policy, if properly implemented, would help prevent destruction associated with mass tourism and irresponsible ecotourism. An increase in ecotourism can make a greater difference to smaller, rural communities and improve environmental awareness within the country, Curry continued. “If local people can profit from protecting and conserving their environment through tourism… they are less likely to… profit from destroying it,” she said.

This article was originally published in the Cambodia Daily.