Discussion on the benefits of Cambodia moving towards a more “sustainable and intelligent” model of tourism dominated the first session of a UNESCO conference discussing the development of the Angkor Wat complex.
More than 300 delegates attended the International Co-ordinating Committee for the Safeguarding and Development of the Historic Sites of Angkor meeting at the Sokha Angkor Resort in Siem Reap yesterday,
where Deputy Prime Minister Sok An voiced the Kingdom’s intention to host the 2012 UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting.
The benefits of Cambodia imposing stricter visitor controls at temples sites, including Angkor Wat, were considered by attendees.
The need to strike a balance between preserving Cambodia’s heritage and encouraging development was highlighted by Siem Reap governor Sou Phirin. He said a rise in tourism in 2011 meant that more effective controls needed to be imposed on visitor flows at historic sites.
“We have to use sustainable, intelligent tourism as an engine for growth in Siem Reap by regulating the amount of traffic at temple sites during peak periods,” he said.
“The existence of two world renowned sites near Siem Reap, the Angkor Archaeological Park and the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve, are major assets for the city, and we should encourage more eco-tourism and cultural tourism to take advantage of this.”
Phirin’s comments were echoed by Apsara Authority director general, Bun Narith, who spoke about efforts by Apsara to encourage the development of “eco-villages” in the Angkor Archaeological Park.
“We are encouraging the planting of fruit trees and orchids as well as organic farming in several communities,” he said.
The two-day conference was chaired by Mounir Bouchenaki, UNESCO assistant director-general for culture. Bouchenaki told The Post that since the beginning of his involvement in Cambodian temple conservation in 1993, great strides have been made.
“The major areas of concern, since it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, have changed considerably. Of concern now is the maintenance of the temples, the management of tourist flow to historic sites, and continuing training and capacity building among the Cambodians working to preserve them.”
Delegates also heard progress reports about restoration work underway on major temple sites in the Angkor Archaeological Park, including the Churning of the Sea of Milk gallery in Angkor Wat, the great Buddha statue in Bayon Temple, and areas of Baphoun Temple.