This is discussion about Heritage Friendly Tourism Campaign.
As a seven year resident of Cambodia who has visited many of the ancient sites here, I believe that Heritage Watch is doing invaluable work addressing the serious need to promote responsible tourism in Cambodia. Unless a triumvirate of the national government, the corporate sector and pressure groups such as Heritage Watch take responsibility for positive concerted action to preserve Cambodia's cultural heritage, there will be very little left for future generations to learn from and enjoy.
Though neither a heritage nor tourism expert, I have witnessed first hand both the destruction of ancient sites through wanton looting and a concurrent radical change in the tourism sector here in recent years.
Cambodia's economic and cultural renaissance is being led by a tourism sector hugely dependent on cultural heritage, in particular the Angkor Wat complex. Cultural heritage, properly managed, can provide sustainable national income ad infinitum. Cambodian cultural heritage used as an exploitable resource is much like the forests and fish here - no-one will know its true value until it has gone. Preservation of the past for future profit remains a huge challenge in a nation, still listed as among the poorest in the world, where immediate gain often outweighs long term considerations.
Ongoing looting of remote sites forgotten in the tourist gold rush of Angkor Wat; a subsequent thriving international market in Khmer antiquities (including in Phnom Penh itself); a lack of transparency on the part of the national government’s awarding of ticketing concessions; the long – term destruction of sites by too many visitors whose numbers and access should be restricted; the repatriation of profits by multinational travel companies to the detriment of locals; the unregulated urban development around the Angkor complex now threatening its water supplies; these are all serious problems facing the preservation of Cambodian cultural heritage today.
There is only one effective solution to these pressing issues – education of foreign visitors on responsible tourism and empowerment of local people and authorities to practice and enforce it.
There is a desperate need for a radical change in the global tourism paradigm and Cambodia is a perfect case study. There is no doubt that Cambodia's cultural heritage now features on the 'must-see' list of many tourists neither is there any doubt as to the benefits it can bring to the nation through equitable distribution. However, responsible long-term government policies combined with corporate sector social responsibility must swiftly emerge to ensure sustainability of the sector and preservation of the sites.
Of equal importance are tourists taking individual and collective responsibility for their choices. Effective public awareness and ongoing restorative and investigative research implemented in tandem with a responsible tourism sector can bring about reform, but it needs successful organisations like Heritage Watch to act as catalysts.
Cambodia truly has the potential to develop a cultural heritage tourism industry to rival any in world. Effective local and international partnerships are essential to sustain, preserve and enhance the wonder of her ancient sites.
You mention that "the project incorporates traditional products and services but adapts them to provide a more fulfilling experience for visitors to the site." In what ways do you adapt products and services? Can you give some examples?
What are the set of criteria that businesses need to meet in order to be considered part of the Heritage Friendly network? Have you been able to measure an increased support of certain businesses based on their heritage friendly participation?
You mention that you would love to see others emulate the Heritage Friendly model. In order to make this happen have you considered establishing a manual?
Lastly, you mention that for true success you would need more support from local businesses and a deeper commitment from the government. How will you encourage this? What methods have you tried? This is a common challenge in this field and I wish you the best of luck.
I look forward to hearing your responses.
Thank you for your questions. A component of the Heritage Friendly Tourism Campaign is our project at Koh Ker, a 10th century temple site in Preah Vihear province, Cambodia. We are working with the local population to provide training to them so that they may have the tools to improve their economic standing. The products we are developing include sugar palm candy, a traditional product used mostly for cooking in S.E. Asia but also a delicious treat as well. To adapt the product to make it more appealing we have begun producing the candies in moulds that reflect Cambodia's heritage (moulds include Angkor Wat and Apsara dancers). Our aim is to have these moulded candies used by the hotels at Angkor as sweeteners in coffee rather than imported white sugar and to sell the candies to visitors to the site. We have also adapted the traditional Cambodian ox-cart to accomodate passengers so that people may tour Koh Ker site in a unique and memorable way. The proceeds for both of these activities go to the community fund at Koh Ker.
To answer your second question;
Beginning in 2007 Heritage Watch invited businesses in Cambodia to become members of the Heritage Friendly Business Association. If you a business meets three of the criteria for membership they were welcomed as a Silver status member. Businesses that met five or more are registered as Gold status members. Criteria include:
-Supporting education & awareness of heritage issues & preservation?
-Contributing to and support heritage/ culture non-profit organizations?
-Promoting positive tourism practices?
-Supporting local development projects?
-NOT participating in the antiquities trade?
-Promoting clean environmental practice?
-Supporting the local economy through innovative ideas, activities and programs?
We certainly will entertain the idea of producing a manual as you suggest.
As corporate philanthropy is not widely practiced in Cambodia the Campaign relies more on foreign companies for sponsorship. We hope that more Cambodian businesses will join our effort. The government has been supportive of most aspects of the Campaign which we applaud.
The Middle East has oil. South Africa has diamonds. For all its tropical abundance it seems that Cambodia's biggest blessing, and most viable economic resource, is truly its history. The Khmer Civilization is one of the most advanced (and most intriguing and mysterious) cultures to evolve in the history of our planet.
* The beauty and spiritual depth of Khmer art and architecture equals the work of the Egyptians, Mayans, Greeks and Romans. Amazingly, due to Cambodia's remote location, many Khmer temples and art objects are still in an excellent state of preservation.
* This has been an irresistible attraction for tourists...and for looters.
* Cambodia's isolation has enabled art theft to occur on a massive scale. Once this cultural heritage is destroyed and leaves the country it is irreplaceable.
* I applaud and support Heritage Watch efforts to educate tourists and tourism operators. Your programs to reach the Cambodian people and government are even more important. The income citizens of Cambodia can derive from renewable, eco-friendly tourism will help this country rebuild and sustain it far into the future.
* If Cambodian history is destroyed the tourism industry will also be destroyed. Khmer history is like an ancient "goose that lays golden eggs" in Cambodia.
* Your efforts to help the government and people realize the value of their legacy are essential for preserving Cambodia's past...and future.
Having lived in Cambodia for the past 12 years, I can certainly testify to the excellent and much needed work being carried out by Heritage Watch in Cambodia, also with acknowledgment of the key role that tourism is playing within the rebuilding of Cambodia, and of how vital it is to ensure the surivial of Cambodias unique and remarkable cultural history - go Heritage Watch and Vote for Heritage Watch !!
I am a sustainable tourism professional living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and am well aware of Dougald's efforts through his Heritage Friendly Tourism campaign and Touchstone magazine. He is one of few archaeologists here and is extremely dedicated to heritage preservation and the irradication of looting. Through his NGO Heritage Watch, he works passionately to find ways - both big and small - to preserve Cambodia's irreplaceable ancient treasures through awareness raising and campaigning. I highly recommend Heritage Watch as a finalist - and winner - of the Geotourism Challenge.
The video accompanying this entry is very exciting and got me anxious to read the information that followed.
The section which highlights the goal of the approach is very clear cut and straight forward.
The submitter of the entry has done a good job in letting us know of the tangible benefits of the program to date.
This is truly a very strong entry as all the questions have been well answered and it is quite evident that the submitter of this entry put a lot of effort into his final submission. I encourage this organization to continue in its endeavors as it is sure to meet success.