Promotion of new sites a top priority
TANG CHHIN SOTHY/ AFP
A child runs in front of Angkor Wat, Cambodia’s number one tourist draw and the centerpiece of a park that is now so overcrowded that its ancient monuments are being damaged, experts say. Tourism is one of the only sources of foreign exchange for Cambodia, which is struggling to recover after nearly three decades of conflict that ended in 1998. The Kingdom aims to lure three million tourist arrivals annually by 2010.
Diversification of tourist sites in and around Angkor Archaeological Park emerged as one of the key solutions to avoiding overcrowding and monument damage at the 17th technical meeting of the International Coordinating Committee of Angkor.
About 225 scientists, experts and conservationists involved in the restoration and preservation of ancient Angkor sites attended the meeting, held in Siem Reap on June 4 and 5.
Afterward, one of the organizers, UNESCO's Program Specialist Philippe Delanghe, told the Post that the development of new attractions is a priority for managing tourist traffic.
"I think the problems are manageable, and we are working to find solutions for a general management plan for not only the sites, but for Siem Reap itself," Delanghe said.
"We will look at the issues of circulation of tourists, at management of sites, and at problems with congestion, and there are good signs in finding solutions," he added.
"You cannot stop tourists from coming but you can try to diversify. We know that several temples, such as Angkor Wat, are main attractions but many people are forgetting that there is much more here for tourists to look at."
However one Siem Reap tourism operator, Dave Perkes of Peace of Angkor Villa, who runs photo and adventure tours to Angkor, remote temples and the Tonle Sap lake, said he was worried about this strategy.
"The authorities have done a good job in their work at Angkor Wat and some of the other major sites, but the more popular sites are becoming seriously overcrowded and a lot of damage is being done," he said.
"The idea of diversifying is good, but it must be sustainable and not damaging."
Perkes said there many smaller sites now worth visiting but droves of visitors would spoil them.
"There needs to be sensitivity in the approach to these sites and the safety issue, which is also emerging as a major problem."
The spread of tourism threatens not only monuments but the integrity of communities as well, he added. "Around the lakeside, for example, there has already been corruption of the communities who didn't have contact with tourists before."
The call for diversification is not new - it's been kicking around for years.
According to the Apsara Authority, the ICC endorsed its proposal for diversification after the 15th technical committee meeting in 2006.
But concrete and specific plans have yet to emerge.