Is ecotourism the future of Cambodian travel?

With the number of visitors to Angkor Wat severely dropping this year, Cambodia’s tourism industry, so vital to the economy, is in danger of becoming reliant on Chinese gambling dollars in Sihanoukville. In search of alternatives, we return to a piece from 2009 looking at Cambodia's then budding ecotourism industry. Could green be the answer to the Kingdom's tourism woes?

With 23 conservation areas and seven national parks, Cambodia would seem to be an eco-trippers paradise. On paper, over 20% of Cambodia is under some form of protection – an impressive figure. But reality belies the illusion: next door to the provincial office of a leading ecotourism coordinator, a restaurant selling bush meat does brisk business. At a stall deep inside the nearby Kirirom National Park the menu includes wild boar.

With little incentive to conserve, local communities surrounding biodiversity-rich areas are driven by sheer economics to indulge in destructive activities. Why work planting rice a whole day for one dollar when a single felled tree can fetch thousands?

“It doesn’t matter if a map says that it’s a protected area, it’s the people who live in a place that really own it. And that’s ultimately what conservation is about – engaging the local community so that they see the incentives and do it themselves,” says Live and Learn’s Regional Program Co-ordinator Jady Smith. Live and Learn is collaborating with conservation organisation Wildlife Alliance to help bring ecotourism to Chi Phat, a village deep within the Cardamom Mountains, which has a unique biosphere under threat from land encroachment and logging.

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