Three ministers have made a joint request to private businesses in the tourism sector to step up efforts to organise tour packages for domestic tourists in order to alleviate some of the economic hardship among tourism workers caused by Covid-19.
The downturn in the economy has caused an increase in illegal activities and natural resource destruction and the ministers are keen to prevent that situation from getting worse.
The joint request came at the opening remarks for the second National Forum on Ecotourism, held in Siem Reap province last week.
Attending the forum was Minister of Tourism Thong Khon, who is also head of the inter-ministerial working group on ecotourism community development; Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Veng Sakhon; and Minister of Environment Say Sam Al.
Khon said during the forum that Cambodia is rich in ecotourism potential, ranging from coastal areas that are part of the “world’s most beautiful beaches club”, the Cardamom Mountains area and the Tonle Sap Lake and Northeast regions with attractions like rare dolphins.
“The development of tourist communities and ecotourism does contribute significantly to developing localities and it allows people to participate and benefit from the nation’s development.
“It empowers them by allowing them some say in the development of their own communities,” he said.
Khon explained that when community members receive economic benefits from tourism they stop working illegal jobs or businesses that destroy natural resources. They also stop poaching animals and logging forests and begin serving as tour guides, selling food and souvenirs, working as motor taxi drivers and running guesthouses and other similar activities.
Sam Al said the environment ministry has been developing ecotourism in a way that agrees with the ministry’s four pillars – environmental protection, biodiversity conservation, sustainable living and institutional modernisation.
“In order to conserve biodiversity and natural resources successfully, it requires the participation of local community members. In order for them to participate, they need to be able to make new choices for living their lives so they stop having a total reliance on natural resources,” he said.
He said that educating the public about the purpose of protected areas and nature sanctuaries inspires local people to participate in conservation work along with rangers.
Concerning the ecotourism sector, Sakhon said potential ecotourism sites under the jurisdiction of his ministry included 131 fishing communities, 638 forest communities and 1,190 farming communities.
“We hope this national forum will offer opportunities to gather and discuss progress, problems and challenges. It’s also an opportunity to come up with creative solutions to help us perform our duties for the common good, ” he said.
He added that taking part in developing tourist communities and the tourist sector helped to sustain and develop society and the nation’s economy. This would in turn help ensure environmental sustainability for younger generations.
The World Tourism Organisation reported that ecotourism, community tourism and rural tourism – all sub-sectors of global tourism – have shown some activity despite the Covid-19 crisis through internal or domestic tourism, which is an alternative tool to promote local development.
Khon said that due to the Covid-19 crisis Cambodia had received only 1.31 million international tourists in 2020 – a drop of 80 per cent from the previous year.
Cambodia also had a total of nine million domestic tourists in the same year, a drop of 20 per cent compared to 2019, but still far easier to weather than the severe drop in international tourism.