The rise of eco-tourism is reshaping travelers' choices, aligning their preferences with sustainability objectives. Our recent involvement in the development of an ecotourism project in Kampong Speu province highlights the increasing significance of environmentally conscious travel.
This article is prepared in collaboration with our outdoor expert consultant, Jean-Benoit Lasselin, who has a deep understanding in this field.
Let’s explore the boom of eco-tourism in Cambodia, its positive impact on conservation and local economies, and its future.
What is Eco-Tourism?
Eco-tourism, also known as sustainable tourism, is a way to travel that prioritizes the responsible management of nature, culture, and legacy while reducing the negative effects on the environment and society. A true ecotourism experience requires visiting the most remote areas where rural life is relaxing and simple.
“Ecotourism is not just a trend but an exciting new way of traveling that benefits people and nature." - Megan Epler Wood, the founder of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES).
With its iconic landscape and vibrant culture, Cambodia is known to be one of a great destination for ecotourism. Cambodia, a country that is home to numerous conservation-oriented initiatives and eco-friendly national parks that provide visitors unique opportunities to immerse themselves in nature, is taking significant strides towards embracing sustainable tourism. The Chambok community-based ecotourism site, Phnom Kulen National Park, Kirirom National Park, and The Cardamom Mountains are a few of Cambodia's well-known ecotourism locations.
What are the mandatory components of Eco-tourism standards?
Eco-tourism standards encompass several key components and principles such as:
Minimize Negative Impacts: Focus on reducing any harm to nature and local culture that could harm the destination's sustainability.
Education for Conservation: Teach travellers about the importance of conservation and environmental responsibility.
Responsible Business: Stress the importance of businesses collaborating with local authorities and communities to meet local needs and promote conservation efforts.
Revenue for Conservation: Ensure that tourism revenues contribute to the conservation and management of natural and protected areas.
Regional Zoning and Planning: Promote regional tourism zoning and visitors management plans tailored to eco-destinations or natural areas.
Baseline Studies and Monitoring: Use environmental and social studies and ongoing monitoring to assess and minimize the impact of tourism activities.
Maximize Economic Benefit: Strive to maximize economic benefits for the host country, local businesses, and communities, particularly those near natural and protected areas.
Stay Within Limits of Change: Ensure that tourism development does not exceed the social and environmental limits considered acceptable by researchers and local residents.
Sustainable Infrastructure: Use infrastructure that aligns with the environment, minimizes the use of fossil fuels, conserves local plants and wildlife, and blends with the natural and cultural surroundings.
What are the prospects that ecotourism in Cambodia will keep growing?
Cambodia's eco-tourists are seeing a significant increase. There were 341,621 domestic and foreign visitors recorded in the first four months of this year, a 250 percent increase over the same period in 2021. There is much potential for ecotourism in Cambodia and it continues to keep expanding. The nation is positioned as a desirable ecotourism destination because of its rich natural and cultural history and continuous dedication to conservation. Using planned development and efficient administration, Cambodia can fully realize its potential for sustainable tourism. The main forces behind future growth are cooperation of the local community, infrastructural improvements, and support from the government.
How does the CSLEP plan to develop and promote ecotourism in Cambodia, and what are the target regions and areas for its initiatives?
The Cambodia Sustainable Landscape and Ecotourism Project (CSLEP), partially financed by the World Bank, aims to enhance the management of protected areas and promote ecotourism and non-timber forest product (NTFP) value chains. CSLEP places special emphasis on boosting ecotourism in four key hubs: Koh Kong, Siem Reap, Pursat, and Kampong Speu. The project is funded with $50.66 million from the International Development Association (World Bank), along with support from the Global Environment Facility and other sources.
How does the success of eco-tourism help local communities and Cambodia’s economy?
Local communities play a major part in the success of eco-tourism in Cambodia. As experts and protectors of the region, they actively participated in the guidance of natural and cultural hidden gems and shared their own way of life that eco-tourists strive to discover. By interacting with Cambodian communities, tourists gain insight into unique local culture. Through these exchanges with tourists, local population earns revenue from ecotourism activities like guided tours, cooking meals, providing homestay, handicraft sales, and cultural performances. This economic boost not only raises the standard of living for the communities involved in eco-tourism but also gives them a stake in preserving the very resources that support their way of life. Collaboration with the local community boosts resource protection by fostering a sense of shared ownership over natural and cultural assets.
How can Cambodia address issues like over-tourism and environmental degradation while promoting eco-tourism?
Cambodia, like many other destinations, faces the challenges of over-tourism and environmental degradation. To address these issues while promoting eco-tourism, the country can adopt a multifaceted approach. This involves strict carrying capacity limits to prevent over-tourism. Regulation of visitor numbers, seasonal restrictions, and visitor zoning can help ensure the environment isn't overwhelmed. Additionally, sustainable practices must be embedded in eco-tourism operations. This includes waste management, energy efficiency, and conservation education for the local population and visitors. Further steps can involve local stakeholder engagement, including indigenous communities, to ensure their interests are protected, and restoration efforts in damaged areas. By implementing these strategies, Cambodia can foster a balanced and sustainable approach to eco-tourism.