In 2004, when preservation of the monuments at Angkor looked secure enough to take the archeological park off the World Heritage endangered-site list, the cathedral of Cologne in Germany took its place, said Tamara Teneishvili, program specialist for the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Cologne had decided to build a skyscraper in the vicinity of the cathedral, Teneishvili said.
“[The cathedral’s] conservation is not threatened, however the environment and landscaping are completely spoiled,” prompting conservationists in Germany to ask the World Heritage Committee for help, she said.
This is just an example of the problems that World Heritage sites must deal with everywhere, as they face the same dilemma Angkor is now struggling with: maintaining a proper balance between conservation and development, she said.
Teneishvili was assigned to Cambodia in October 1999 to assist the International Coordinating Committee of Angkor, a committee of donors that oversees the park in cooperation with the Cambodian government.
Originally from Georgia, Teneishvili studied archeology at Moscow University, and joined Unesco in February 1999 in Paris.
From the very start, she said, “I realized that the ‘Angkor Enterprise,’ if you could call it that way, was beyond the archeological background that I had.”
Angkor was not only about monument preservation, particularly towards the end of 2000, when Sokimex Co published its first report on ticket collection at Angkor.
The petroleum company had in 1999 obtained the ticket-sales concession at the entrance to the park. The company’s computerized ticketing system produced the first systematic data on visitors at Angkor, Teneishvili said.
In 2000, Sokimex announced that revenues during the first year of its contract at Angkor had been about $5 million, she said, adding that previous estimates by the Ministry of Tourism had set attendance at around 40,000 tourists with revenues of maybe $800,000 per year.
The tourism potential of Angkor is now apparent, and the government has changed its attitude toward the site, seeking more control where it previously had been happy to leave the archeological park to conservation specialists, Teneishvili said.
“The Cambodian government is targeting tourism for the economic development of the country. [The ICC] must recognize the fact that the government is interested in mass tourism and be prepared for this,” she said.
Teneishvili, who left Cambodia on Friday to take on a new position as a Unesco specialist coordinating programs in Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, had some recommendations to leave behind on the future of the temples.
With the number of visitors hovering around one million per year, it is imperative for the Apsara Authority—the government agency managing Angkor—to complete its management plan for the next decades, Teneishvilie said.
The agency must take the lead in tourism management rather than introducing programs piecemeal when problems arise, she said.
The ICC has asked the government to give the agency financial autonomy so that it can plan both conservation projects and tourism facilities. Apsara receives only around 30 percent of its allotted budget annually, she said.
Though many things have greatly improved at Angkor over the last seven years—including the Kbal Spean River, where in 1999 visitors needed a military escort—other things are lagging behind, including the construction of a bypass to reduce traffic on the Angkorian bridge of Kompong Kdei along National Route 6 in Kompong Thom province.
Of the future preservation of Angkor, Teneishvili said she was very optimistic.
“I believe—and I trust—this young generation of Cambodian experts,” she said. They are, she added, “very motivated to prepare, to research and to develop their cultural assets.”