Industry Experts Say Ecotourism Has Potential to Expand

As tourists’ itineraries veer toward nature resorts and jungle trekking, companies and conservationists are considering how they can define, develop and expand ecotourism and coastal tourism in Cambodia.

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

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Tourists walk into Siem Reap International Airport in 2013. (Karl Baron/Creative Commons)

Most of the clients who booked travel through Asia DMC wanted to visit Angkor Archaeological Park, but Mr. Nam said Cambodia had the potential to increase ecotourism to other provinces by creating a clear definition of what the country has to offer.

“Everybody talks about ecotourism, but what exactly is it for you?” he said. “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 offered no hint as to how it would define ecotourism.

Neither ministry could be reached for comment on the policy’s details.

Discussions about the policy, focused on how to develop tourist destinations while protecting the environmental resources upon which tourism companies rely, said Hor Vandy, co-chair of the Government-Private Sector Working Group on Tourism.

“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,” he said.

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

Seng Bunny, managing director of Eurasie travel agency, said last year that travel to Cambodia’s mountainous provinces increased as nature tourism grew.

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 in the past three years, Mr. 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 said.

Alison Curry, sales and marketing adviser for the Sam Veasna Centre for Wildlife Conservation, said in an email that the policy, if properly implemented, would help prevent destruction that follows mass tourism and irresponsible ecotourism.

An increase in ecotourism can make a greater difference to smaller, rural communities and improve environmental awareness in the country, Ms. Curry said.

“If local people can profit from protecting and conserving their environment through tourism…then they are less likely to take profit from destroying it,” she said.

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