It’s been nine years since a director-general of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization last made an official visit to Cambodia.
When Koichiro Matsuura arrives today for a 48-hour visit, he will land in a different country from nine years ago—and with a different agenda.
Etienne Clement, Unesco resident in Cambodia, said the director-general will meet with the government’s top leaders as well as his own officials before departing on Friday.
But unlike in 1991, when Cambodia was more concerned with survival than development, officials today are preparing to host an upscale international conference on cultural tourism that begins Monday in Siem Reap.
And Koichiro Matsuura will be preparing the ground work for a shift in Unesco’s priorities, from helping to protect Angkor Wat to planning for the temple complex’s responsible development as a world-class tourist destination.
“The matter of managing tourists is becoming quite urgent,” Clement said Tuesday. “It will require more and more of our energy in the next six months.”
Tourist management was always part of Unesco’s plan for the Angkorian complex, drawn up in the early 1990s when it was designated Cambodia’s only World Heritage Site.
But for years, all available resources went into protecting the temples from looters and the ravages of time. Only recently, as the numbers of visitors rose sharply, did the question of how to handle tourism become as important as protecting the temples.
Next week’s cultural tourism conference, sponsored by the World Tourism Organization and the Ministry of Tourism, will explore how tourism can affect cultural heritage and prosperity.
Experts from Egypt, India, Iran, China, Korea, Sri Lanka, Japan and Papua New Guinea will describe how those countries handle the hordes that visit their religious and cultural monuments.
Other speakers will discuss regional packaging and how to advertise cultural sites more effectively. Still others will talk about training workers and operating tours.
And while that meeting is of great interest to Unesco—Clement will speak, along with Herve Barre, chief of the research and development section of Unesco’s Division of Cultural Heritage—a second Siem Reap meeting later in the week will focus on Unesco’s future plans.
Members of the International Coordinating Committee for the Safeguarding and Development of the Historic Site of Angkor will hold their annual technical meeting starting Thursday.
At the technical meeting, experts from the donor countries that make up the committee will discuss what they are doing in the various conservation projects at Angkor and what else remains to be done.
That will be followed by a general ICC meeting next June, when the donors will discuss the specifics of shifting emphasis from conservation to management of the sites, Clement said.
Ideally, he said, they will decide to spend as much on tourism as they now spend on conservation, an estimated $3 million to $4 million per year.
“Now, our focus must be to shift some of our resources to management,” he said. “Each of the donors must consider what is important.”
The Apsara Authority, the arm of the Cambodian government charged with protecting Angkor, is an ICC member and struggled until last year with too little money to enforce the laws.
The renegotiation of the ticket concessions contract should provide more revenue for better enforcement. A recent attempt to build an illegal karaoke resort on the Western Baray drew worldwide condemnation, Clement said, and authorities will be more vigilant than ever.
“One has to be careful,” he said. “The development of Angkor must benefit all of Cambodia’s population, not just small groups.”