A private firm has submitted proposals to invest in 16 small ecotourism projects in Bokor National Park which are currently being assessed by the Ministry of Environment.

Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra told The Post that a joint working group had inspected the investment proposal for the ecotourism projects on March 7 and had dispatched technical officers to analyse on-site data, after which it would request a review and seek approval for the development from Minister of Environment Say Samal.

However, he stressed that under the plans, the project owner will have the right to use only 30 per cent of land allocated, with the other 70 per cent to be set aside for conservation – a decision made to encourage private sector participation in the protection and conservation of natural resources, as well as to promote ecotourism.

Pheaktra said that ecotourism is an important driver of local economic growth because it creates jobs and provides income for the people.

Cambodians are beginning to understand the value of this form of tourism and have increasingly been visiting protected areas, he noted, adding that tourists have been promoting protected areas to others after sightseeing and sampling the local cuisine.

He said that participation of the private sector in the protection and conservation of natural resources may result in more enticing attractions in Kampot province, which most of the national park lies in.

Kampot provincial Department of Tourism director Soy Sinol could not be reached for comment.

Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Cambodia chapter chairman Thourn Sinan told The Post that if the applicant is genuine in their intention to develop the sites into tourist destinations, it would be “really beneficial” for the tourism sector of Cambodia.

But he expressed doubts that the projects would materialise, citing previous examples of such investment projects. “What’s happened in the past with private sector takeover of such small tracts of land is that they have received projects to develop, which they mobilise investors to inject money into.

“If they cannot find investors, they do not develop the projects, and that is a problem,” he said.