Eco-tourism set to spark Cambodian tourist influx

Eco-tourism set to spark Cambodian tourist influx

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Aspiring tour guides are being trained as birdwatchers by NGOs operating on Tonle Sap Lake.

Cambodia’s select-ion as the host country for  the 2011 World Ecotourism Conference in Sihanoukville this October is a vote of confidence in the Kingdom’s growing attractiveness as an eco-friendly holiday destination, tourism operators say.

Lobbying to host the conference is the latest move by the government to market Cambodia’s “green” credentials, an effort that included a high-profile advertising campaign on CNN last year.

The decision is music to the ears of Touch Morn, the chief of Chambok commune in Kampong Speu, who says a new breed of tourists interested in hiking and wildlife- spotting has been holidaying there in recent years.

And he says that as well as being good for the environment, eco-tourism is good for business.

“We run projects providing tour-guide services, oxcart tours, home stays and Khmer restaurant visits.

“We are trying to get as many villagers as we can to do jobs like this. Before we started on the eco-tourism project, villagers here cut down trees and hunted wildlife.”

Touch says more than 2200 visitors, both foreign and Cambodian pass through Chambok each month, att-racted by the area’s lush green forests and exotic wildlife.

The non-profit group Osmose, which works around the Prek Toal floating village in Tonle Sap lake, has recently begun organising bird-watching tours that have drawn many new tourists to the area, spokesman Chul Vicheth says.

He told The Phnom Penh Post about 500 tourists had taken the tour so far, which had helped raise funds to protect local wildlife.     

“People used to habitually take birds’ eggs away from their nests or hunt birds for food,” Chul Vicheth says.

“We tried to explain the importance of protecting the birds, and now our village has become a tourism place. Most people have joined us in protecting them.”

Cambodia’s Minister for Tourism, Thong Khon, says the  eco-conference, backed by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, will help inform Cambodians about the importance of protecting the environment.

“The world is tending towards developing eco-tourism to accelerate poverty reduction and prevent climate change,” Thong Khon says.

“Developing this sector will bring income to people in Cambodia. When tourists visit their community, they will get the money.

“They will realise that nat-ure helps them survive, and  they will protect the nature for tourists to see.”

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