UNESCO, the Battambang provicial government and tourism officials held talks yesterday on plans to list the province on the UN arm’s World Heritage Cities Program.
As part of the first of several conferences on sustainable tourism for the conservation of cultural and natural heritage and the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve, leaders of the three institutions discussed the inclusion of Battambang in the UNESCO program, which could ensure the protection of the province’s natural and cultural heritage sites.
This program also aims to provide the provincial government with assistance in protecting and managing its heritage and thus promote socio-economic development.
“We are discussing to list Battambang as a UNESCO heritage city, as Battambang has its own potential, including economic potential,” said Anne Lemaistre, UNESCO country director for Cambodia.
Lemaistre hopes the UNESCO framework will encourage more tourists to visit the town and province by linking the preservation of cultural heritage and nature with developing tourist attractions.
“The idea would be to have at least a million tourists going to Angkor Wat and then on to Battambang,” she said.
Ang Kim Eang, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents said Battambang was already popular with Cambodian tourists for its unique architecture. Eang said to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage City would increase foreign tourists.
“Battambang was named by UNESCO as the City of Performing Arts, because it has more than 100 ancient Khmer and colonial buildings and 1,000 ancient pagodas and temples, and the circus school Phare Ponleu Selpak, which could attract lots of tourists,” said Provincial Governor Chan Sophal.
Provincial authorities plan to upgrade infrastructure with road repairs and improved airport connectivity, he added.
Sophal also expressed the need for protection of cultural and natural heritage, which could be a pathway for the reduction of poverty through increased economic activity with bigger tourist numbers.
“What we are trying to do is [attract] at least two million visitors, [of which] 25 per cent will visit Battambang after they visit Siem Reap.” ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MARIA WIRTH