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Eco-tourism needs more guidance, says World Bank

Sorn Sarath / Khmer Times Share:
Eco-tourism on the water in Ratanakiri. Supplied

The government’s strategy to develop the country’s eco-tourism sector has not provided comprehensive guidance for eco-tourism, according to a World Bank report.

The report called “Enabling Ecotourism Development in Cambodia” states that there is no specific policy in place for developing eco-tourism in protected areas (PAs).

In addition, overlap and inconsistency among the three key and relevant laws (PA Law, Land Law and Concessions Law) is inefficient and cumbersome for potential investors and likely to act as a deterrent.

“Most importantly, the current policies do not create incentives for private sector investments in ecotourism,” the report said. “The process for developing tourism products within PAs is unclear to most of the private sector.”

The report shows that Cambodia’s tourism competitiveness is lower than its regional neighbours due in part to its relatively weak business environment.

The World Economic Forum’s Tourism and Travel Competitive Index for 2018 ranked Cambodia 98th out of 140 countries, stating that Cambodia scored worse on indicators relating to ease of doing business. This report put Cambodia 144th out of 190 countries this year.

Private tourism sector operators have noted that it is difficult, time-consuming and expensive for private companies to start a business.

Eco-tourism development in Cambodia is primarily led by donor agencies, civilians and the private sector. This can create distance between government agencies and local communities, making monitoring and regulatory enforcement difficult.

“Reliance on external support and funding can also lead to ecotourism projects being abandoned or converted into mass tourism sites when funding ends,” the World Bank said.

The report said planning for ecotourism-related infrastructure development must be done with care and consideration for the environment. “Insufficient transport infrastructure and weak services hinder sustainable tourism development because many secondary destinations are unable to attract private investment in quality tourist service infrastructure,” it said.

Lack of market research, inadequate marketing and branding of tourism sites, inadequate protection of ecotourism assets and low quality of ecotourism offerings and services are other challenges, the report said.

Top Sopheak, the ministry spokesman, recognises that there are still limitations in eco-tourism development. However, he says the government is working promote the development. “We are now mainly focusing on eco-tourism. Especially, the minister of tourism is drawing up plans for the development of tourism communities in the country,” he said. “We have set up an inter-ministerial committee to work on eco-tourism development. We have an eco-tourism working group, which is chaired by the minister of economic and finance and we need to have a good cooperation among the ministries so the sector will be developed smoothly.”

Sopheak said that adding to the National Eco-Tourism Policy, the government is preparing a law on eco-tourism that will be a main impetus for its development. “We have limitations to other facilities to support tourism – road connections to tourism sites and, especially, the quality of service,” he said.

Tith Chantha, the Ministry of Tourism’s secretary of state, said COVID-19 hit tourism hard. The Kingdom’s tourism sector will lose $5 billion in revenue in 2020. In recent years, the Cambodia tourism sector has earned about $6 billion a year from domestic and international travel. In 2019, eco-tourism accounted for 16 percent of the total number of tourists. The number doubled between 2014 and 2019, the World Bank said.

 

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