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Food tourism key to boosting national economy: experts

Chhut Bunthoeun / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Tourism Minister Thong Khon (right) and UNWTO’s Xu Jing visit an exhibit during yesterday’s conference. KT/Khem Sovannara

Tourism industry insiders and high-ranking officials gathered yesterday at Sokha Phnom Penh Hotel to discuss the role of gastronomy in attracting more tourists to the Kingdom.

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Speaking at the ‘First International Conference on Cambodian Gastronomy and Food Tourism’ yesterday, Tourism Minister Thong Khon said gastronomy is a crucial aspect of tourists’ experiences.

“Food and gastronomy are key elements when it comes to attracting visitors,” the minister said at the event, which was organised in collaboration with the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)

The minister praised Cambodia’s rich food tradition. “Food in Cambodia has a central role during cultural, traditional, and religious ceremonies.

“Different dishes acquire different meanings – some Cambodian dishes represent peace, while others embody ideas like solidarity and harmony,” he said.

Minister Khon said the conference aims to find ways of promoting the Kingdom’s culinary offer and use gastronomy to bolster national identity.

Xu Jing, UNWTO director for Asia-Pacific, highlighted the role of gastronomy in boosting tourism around the world, while also noting tourism’s importance in strengthening economic growth.

“Tourism is an important driver of economic growth that helps in the fight against poverty,” he said.

By organising the conference, Cambodia has joined a global movement to connect gastronomy and the tourism industry, Mr Xu said.

Gavin Bell, team leader of the Tourism Commercial Capacity Building Programme in Cambodia, said food tourism is a growing industry around the world.

“The world is increasingly open and becoming globalised. Tourists seek experiences based on local identity and culture. It is one of the most dynamic segments within the tourism market,” he said.

He noted that a recent survey by Adventure Travel Trade has found that approximately 25 percent of tourists’ travel budget is spent on food. The same survey finds that 81 percent of tourists learn about local culinary traditions when they visit a destination while 81 percent of all tourists believe food and drink help in understanding the local culture.

Mr Bell said building experiential food tourism offers based on local food traditions and integrating them into the national tourism landscape fosters economic development.

He said linking food and tourism will help rebrand Cambodia as more than just a temple destination.

Renowned chef and president of the Cambodia Tourism Federation Luu Meng also spoke at the event, noting the growing importance of gastronomy in the global tourism industry.

“For gastronomy to reach its full potential, large investments are required to improve the quality of services. We must also focus on offering unique products and improving the skills of our professionals,” he said.

Mr Meng said the food and beverage industry in the Kingdom faces several challenges, including a lack of processing facilities and market research, as well as insufficient sanitary and hygiene standards.

“We need investments in technology and education to improve the sector’s profitability,” he said, adding that compliance with international standards will create more demand for Cambodian food products abroad.

“To this end, the government is encouraging investment in agri-processing zones through public-private partnerships,” he said, noting that governmental efforts in this area have vastly improved the country’s product offer and reduce Cambodia’s reliance on imports.

According to the Ministry of Tourism, last year the Kingdom welcomed about 6.2 million tourists, an increase of 10.7 percent year-on-year. The tourism industry generated $4.3 billion in revenue, contributing 12.7 percent of GDP.

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