To promote tourist destinations in his home province of Kampot, Hang Panhaka took it upon himself to establish an online social community network and app which introduces new destinations and shares introductions from local business owners.
He believes the application will provide a convenient service to tourists, both domestic and international.
Hang Panhaka, 29, has always wanted to promote tourism in his province since he was in high school.
“When I was at high school, I rarely left home. One day, I found a waterfall in the forest, and it struck me – there is so much beauty all around that needs to be shared with people,” he told The Post.
Since his epiphany, Panhaka has dedicated himself to promoting tourism. He studied tourist management at the Regional Polytechnic Institute Techo Sen Kampot, and expects to be able to use his skills to build something which will benefit his province.
He created the Facebook page Visit Kampot in 2018 after noting that there were not as many visitors as he thought his province deserved, given its spectacular mountain and many natural wonders.
“Even most of our Cambodian visitors don’t know about these hidden gems. They come to visit Kampot but pass by so many destinations that are worth their time,” he said.
He wanted to fill in the gaps and let visitors know more about these attractions, so that more people would take the time to explore the province.
“I realised that a Facebook page could provide information and was a good way of promoting our province to our visitors,” he added.
He started posting information but did not have access to high quality, attractive pictures. This was when he started thinking about the promotional images of famous foreign tourist destinations which he had seen.
“I knew I was going to have to learn how to take good photographs. Once I learned the basics, my skills grew. Now I even make videos,” Panhaka said.
More than 71,000 people are now following the Visit Kampot Facebook page. He has also created an online community on Facebook called “Visit Kampot” with 877,000 members and has a Telegram channel named “Visit Kampot – tips” with nearly 6,000 subscribers.
“We started to produce more content during the Covid-19 crisis. The online community was really important at the time, because people felt so isolated,” he said.
Since its establishment, the Visit Kampot team has worked closely with the provincial tourism department, which shares counselling, new ideas and encouragement with the team.
“We have provided our expertise to the Visit Kampot youth group and in return they have helped a lot to promote the province,” provincial tourism department director Soy Sinol told The Post.
Kampot saw more than 1.6 million tourists in 2019 – an increase of 2.17 per cent compared to more than 1.4 million visitors in 2018, according to the department. The province has set the goal of attracting 2.5 million tourists by the end of this year.
“We are now living in the digital age – it is easy to send information quickly to the general public, or target groups such as national and international tourists. It is fast and efficient,” said Sinol.
Panhaka said the growth of domestic tourism to Kampot meant he was receiving more enquiries. This took him longer to reply, and his responses were not always as detailed as he would like.
“Personal chats take a lot of time. I have to explain places I think they would like, but also ask them questions so I can work out what they are likely to be looking for,” he added.
He began to think of ways which could make it easier for tourists to find information.
“I decided I should set up a website that would be the main source of information. When they want to know something – they can search the website. Then, if they have further questions, I or one of my team will respond to them,” he added.
The Visit Kampot Web-app (www.visitkampot.info) in Khmer has just been launched and can be installed on a mobile device or viewed on a browser. It focuses on simple tips to make planning a trip simpler.
He explained that the application provided information on places to visit, accommodation, local restaurants and cafes, markets, and even gyms and salons. It also offered video guides, and tips regarding the weather.
“Using technology to help plan trips is a smart way to do it. It means we save time and money and can easily access the specific information we need,” he said.
“Youth are important to the development of society, so I want to be a role model for them and let them know that they can achieve anything they set their minds on. Too many younger people believe that they need help from outside, or that they need to study in Phnom Penh. My group are nearly all from right here in Kampot,” he added.
“Our community sometimes values external social media platforms rather than local ones. Obviously, I think the locals play a very important role in providing tourist information. Together, we are attracting more tourists to Kampot and helping restore the tourism sector,” he concluded.
His group has more than 10 members, all of whom are volunteers under the age of 25.
“Some are in grade 11 or 12. Others are in the first or second year of university. When they have holidays, they help us out. When they return to their studies, a new volunteer arrives,” said Panhaka.
Their work has received a lot of support from business owners, who have offered praise, encouragement and financial support to the group.
One user of the web app, Hong Ponleu, said the content produced by the Visit Kampot youth group contained clear information and had an attractive design.
“Their pictures and information are very well organised, and accommodations and other services contain details and have very clear pricing,” he said.
“We plan to produce more guides – in foreign languages. That is our next goal.”