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Swiss tourism students tour rolled out in SR

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Gadzooks! Swiss tourism student Liby Christen gets hands on experience with a bloody big spider. Photograph: Michael Scholten/Phnom Penh Post

A Siem Reap-based travel agency organised a ten-day Cambodian research trip last month for sixty students from Switzerland’s Tourism School, a member of Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts.

The trip, from April 12 to April 21, was organised by Lolei Travel agency, founded 15 years ago by Swiss citizen Peter Lietz,  and  run by his Cambodian wife Makara Lietz-Ren and Swiss general manager Sven Zika.

Lolei Travel joined forces with Swiss tour operator Kambodscha Direkt, whose managing director Andy Kuhn likes the country for its “authenticity and world famous sights,” but still sees “some weaknesses, that make it even more interesting for students to leave the hotel and do their research.”

René Zeier, ceo of the Tourism School, told Insider, “The cultural, social and historical matters in Cambodia offer a great variety of research fields for our students.

“Add the good infrastructure and the availability of local and foreign experts as exciting speakers – and you get a perfect place to deepen our knowledge about the tourism industry in Southeast Asia.”

The Swiss guests made Raffles Grand d’Angkor their class room for one Friday, when presentations were made by Cambodian and foreign businessmen, monks, journalists and artists.

Among them were Alan Brun, ceo of Artisans d’Angkor, the Venerable Samnieng from Wat Damnak,   and Swiss expatriate Paul Wallimann, owner of Haven Restaurant in Siem Reap that gives young adult orphans work training.

Swiss Consul Pierre Tami welcomed his young compatriots to Cambodia and called it “still the best country to be,” since founding a business or an NGO here is “by far easier than in most other Asian countries.”

But Swiss travel figures in the kingdom are still low: 15,000 Swiss tourists visit the country per year,  and 250  Swiss (“with two of them in jail”) are registered as permanent citizens and work for NGOs, or are retired.

Business between the two countries is rather small: Cambodia imports goods from Switzerland for $5 million per year, mainly medicine. Switzerland buys goods from Cambodia for $36 million, mostly jeans, shirts, shoes and umbrellas. While Nestlé closed its food factory in Cambodia a few years ago, Swiss luxury watch producer Rolex and elevator producer Schindler have plans to start business in Cambodia next year.

Switzerland is also well known for its donations: $20 million per year is collected by Swiss doctor Beat Richner for his Kantha Bopha children hospitals, and another $2 million was spent on preserving Banteay Srei temple a few years ago.

Swiss consul Pierre Tami said the Cambodian government wants to welcome seven million international tourists to Cambodia in 2020. To reach this goal, however, many thousands of skilled workers will be needed.

He said, “Everybody is talking about eco tourism in Rattanakiri and Mondulkiri, but you cannot just parachute the tourists into the jungle if there is no infrastructure and a shortage of hospitality.”

The general sightseeing program for the Swiss students included Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Prohm and a half day Tonle Sap cruise to Kampong Kleang. Some groups, who researched the landmine problem or the ongoing conflict between Khmer and Thai, also added trips to Beng Mealea and Preah Vihear.

After one week the 60 students presented the results of their work at the German-Khmer culture centre Meta House in Phnom Penh.

The majority of them came to the conclusion: “Spend more time in the country and discover the hidden treasures of Cambodia within two or three weeks instead of the usual two or three days!”

The groups advised trekking tours in several national parks, but recommended higher skills for the rangers. “Our guide did not speak English at all and that made the tour not informative at all”, was one of the student’s complaints. “Even worse, we found signs of illegal logging and hunting committed by the underpaid rangers themselves.”

Many of the students recommended beach holidays and diving tours in Sihanoukville and in particular in Koh Kong, with coming attractions such as the Mangrove Resort Koh Kong that will have luxury bungalows with a swimming pool, spa and restaurants within mangrove forests.  

Some students searched for meditation and yoga opportunities in Cambodia, but found few.  The group’s summation was, “If you want to stay in a real pagoda or ashram for several nights, you must go to Sri Lanka, Laos or Myanmar.”

But golfers can anticipate a bright future. There are plans for ten new golf courses, with three of them already under construction.

Plus there is more good news for sport addicts: the organizers of the annual Angkor Half Marathon are working on a real marathon, meaning a more than 42 kilometers’ run in the shadow of ancient temples.

Plus next year there’ll be more students coming to Cambodia from the Lucerne Tourism School. Manfred Ritschard, who was one of the four school lecturers travelling and researching together with the students, said, “Yes, we want to come back with another sixty students in 2013. In particular we want to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of trade relations between Cambodia and Switzerland.

“Our Swiss consul Pierre Tami asked for our support in 2013, and the Lucerne University feels honoured and is happy to do so.”

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