Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Using tourism to build our future and preserve our past

via CAAI News Media

Wednesday, 20 January 2010 15:00 Kounila Keo

The past year has been a rough one for tourism in Cambodia, as vacation destinations around the world have been suffering from a lack of visitors due to the world financial crisis. But despite the temporary downturn, tourism remains one of the most promising sectors for development, as the Asian Development Bank predicts that Cambodia’s gross domestic product will grow by 4 percent this year.

As is the case with development in all sectors, tourism projects in Cambodia are often funded by foreign investments, meaning a lot of the profits do not stay in Cambodia. But, by bringing tourists with money into the country, the benefits of tourism investment indirectly benefit everyone. For people who work in the service industry, the benefits are obvious; they have more potential customers with more money. However, more financial resources for tourism can benefit all of Cambodia through an improved physical and social infrastructure.

While tourism has opened exciting opportunities for development in Cambodia, it also has also provided a unique opportunity for the preservation of the Kingdom’s culture and history.

These infrastructures include physical structures such as roads, hospitals and airports, but also societal infrastructures such as better law enforcement. While tourists might provide the economic incentive to create these things, the benefits are shared by native populations as well. Better roads for tourists are better roads for Cambodians and improved law enforcement makes everyone safer.

Cambodia has many of the natural wonders and idyllic locales that attract tourists, and according to Kuch Sopha, general manager of Cambodian Wonders Travel&Tours, the challenge is managing tourist hot spots.

“Cambodian students might have to think again when they overlook tourism, because I am sure that it will bring in lots of money and prosperity to the country,” Kuch Sopha said. “Especially if we know how to manage them well.”

While tourism has opened exciting opportunities for development in Cambodia , it also has also provided a unique opportunity for the preservation of the Kingdom’s culture and history.

The preservation of the forests and temples in Siem Reap has been made possible largely through foreign visitors and foreign aid. Many projects to maintain traditional culture, such as Apsara dancing and puppet shows, have also been undertaken with foreign audiences in mind.

Siem Reap is the most obvious example of how tourism can contribute to cultural preservation. In addition, it can also offer alternative employment for populations in rural areas who are engaging in environmentally-damaging industries such as logging.

Tourism development that integrates native populations into the creation and maintenance of a destination is called community-based ecotourism, and according to the Ministry of Tourism, 30 such organisations have formed in recent years. Ideally, these organisations try to build a tourism infrastructure that capitalises on natural beauty without damaging it, and also returns a maximum amount of the profits back to the community.

In the last two years, the government has begun to market Cambodia to TV viewing audiences around the world as the “Kingdom of Wonder”, helping to build up Cambodia’s international profile.

However, much still needs to be done in the country to make it tourist-friendly. The foundation for a tourism industry has existed for centuries, we just need to build upon it without knocking it down.

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