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Growing ecotourism sector offers magic combination for rural development

Kuch Nithatevy / Khmer Times Share:
Tourists visit Busra waterfall at Pech Chreada district’s Sen Monorom city in Mondulkiri province. KT/Chor Sokunthea

The Ministry of Tourism has announced that ecotourism, especially regarding community tourism and resource development, is set to be prioritised as part of the ministry’s commitment to environmental conservation going forward.

The comments were made yesterday by ministry Permanent Secretary of State, Tith Chantha, at a press conference concerning the potential benefits of ecotourism in the Kingdom.

“Cambodia has many natural attractions. From forests and mountains to the coastal retreats, we have a lot to offer tourists,” he said.

“In collaboration with the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Agriculture, we are looking to further develop ecotourism to reap the benefits it brings,” he said.

“Ecotourism is important, as it opens up Cambodia to a whole new sector within tourism, giving some much-needed diversity. However, it also is a method of tourism that significantly benefits local economies. As a result, this helps us in our preservation efforts, as locals turn to tourism rather than hunting or deforestation to earn an income,” he added.

According to a 2019 Ministry of Tourism’s report, the Kingdom saw 62,195 people visit areas specifically providing eco-activities.

Another report by the ministry also noted that during the five-day replacement holiday between August 17 and 21 this year, Over 120,727 domestic tourists visited rural northern provinces – renowned for their ecotourism activities – such as Mondulkiri, Ratanakiri, Stung Treng, and Kratie.

Elephant Valley Project manager, Jemma Bullock, says there is a growing market for eco-tourism in Cambodia.

“Unsustainable models of tourism result in overdevelopment and environmental degradation. Eco-tourism offers an alternative model that aims to utilise tourism to benefit locals and the environment. It also helps preserve the people’s indigenous ancestral land,” she said.

“Ecotourism helps protect cultural heritage and natural habitats by channeling funds into communities, who then are in charge of the environment,” she said.

“There is generally a misunderstanding of ecotourism as just visiting natural areas, however, it’s about more than that. It’s about engaging with the environment by integrating communities in the sector. A number of key players need to come together with the government and the environmental departments to execute ecotourism programmes and ensure sustainable development,” she added.

A tour guide from the Cambodian Rural Discovery Tour, who identified himself as Tola, said that a focus on ecotourism means long term benefits for communities while helping to protect the nation’s natural resources.

“From what we’ve seen, international aid and grants in northeastern Cambodia have been significant in helping environmental wildlife conservation. Infrastructure has greatly been enhanced and it also generates tax for the provincial government,” he said.

“Eco and local tourism increases local jobs, add value to local businesses and products and fosters an exchange of culture which is positive for the area. It opens up opportunities for stakeholders to encourage local participation in the sector, which brings with it skillset and capacity expansion,” he said.

“Ecotourism needs to be promoted and supported by the government. However, it also needs to have a comprehensive strategy behind it which will ensure its long-term sustainability,” said Tola.

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