Students Learn to Manage Future of Angkor

siem reap town – As Cambodia repairs itself after three decades of civil war and political turmoil, the government is looking to the temples of Angkor as a beacon to draw tourists and their dollars to the country, filling the state’s chronically empty coffers.

But if the temples are not managed properly, conservationists warn, Cambodia may lose its golden goose.

“It’s quite, quite crucial that they get a visitor management plan together now,” said Sharon Sullivan, a consultant working with the World Monuments Fund to train Cambodians to care for the temples. “Otherwise, they’re going to be swamped.

“People need to start thinking about this,” she said. “There’s always a tension in these matters between the Cambodian government wanting of course to get as many people into the temples as it can and the fact that unless they control it and put effort into good management, they will lose it and the people will go somewhere that’s fresher and more off the track.”

To help Cambodia plan the future of Angkor, the World Monu­ments Fund is training a group of two dozen people how to identify and solve problems at the temples and manage the thousands of tourists who come to see them, while preserving the culture of the villages in the complex.

The students, all Cambodian, were drawn from groups ranging from the national police to conservation groups to the Apsara Authority, which oversees temple management. The two-week workshop, which concludes March 12, focuses on developing a five-year plan for the Preah Khan temple, though the ideas being discussed apply to all the monuments. The training program could extend to the whole of the temple complex in coming years, said John Sanday, field director for the World Monu­ments Fund’s Preah Kahn Con­servation Project.

On Saturday, the students met with the “stakeholders” of Ang­kor, people from the local government, conservation groups, NGOs and hotels whose work in some way involves the temples.

Attendees at the conference agreed restrictions would soon be needed to limit where tourists can walk and what they can touch at the temples.

Several people also suggested a need for limiting the number of visitors allowed into a temple at any one time.

Cambodians are already seeing a sign of what is to come. The number of tourists coming to Cambodia last year climbed 30 percent over the previous year, and tourism officials expect a similar increase this year. Most of these tourists see the temples of Angkor while in Cambodia.

The government recently made it easier for people to visit the temples, allowing several international air carriers to fly directly into Siem Reap rather than stopping first in Phnom Penh.

 

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