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Success of Cambodian eco-tourism highlighted by international award

Gareth Johnson

The most expensive and arguably the most prestigious eco-resort in Cambodian eco-tourism, Shinta Mani Wild has not only made the highly coveted annual Condé Nast Traveler Editor’s Choice Gold List but was voted number one in Asia. 

The resort beat several extremely well-known hotels and resorts throughout the region, such as the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong. It was the only Cambodian resort to make the list. 

Condé Nast Traveler – a luxury and lifestyle travel magazine published by Condé Nast. The publication has won 25 National Magazine Awards and presents three industry-recognized annual awards, namely the Reader’s Choice Awards, the “Hot List” and the recent ‘Editor’s Choice Gold List”.

Cambodian eco-tourism and the ‘new normal

Speaking to Cambodia Investment Review General Manager David Steyn stated: “There are many reasons why we have been so successful, but I think the fact that we put so much money back into conservation is a key part. Although we are run for profit, that is not the key aim and we see ourselves more as a social enterprise”.

As previously reported in our publication eco-tourism and the higher-end demographic are seen as key to re-booting the Cambodian tourism industry. This was a sentiment that Steyn agreed with telling us “Covid has changed peoples traveling habits, and through so-called ‘revenge tourism’ they are looking to not only spend more quality time in one place but also have that time spent out in the open, rather than in crowded busy cities”.

Asked whether this was a route the Cambodian tourist industry should follow he added “Before coming to Cambodia I was working in Rwanda. Previously they had been a stop-off destination for 3-4 days, but during Covid-19 they not only rebranded themselves but started offering longer packages inclusive of much more time spent in-country. So far, this has been extremely successful for their tourist sector and it is certainly something that we as an industry should be trying to replicate”.

In his opinion at least Cambodia now sits at a crossroads after reopening but has a golden opportunity to be a leader in not only higher-end tourism within the region but specifically in the ever-growing eco-tourism sector. 

Cambodian eco-tourism
Wildlife Alliance is an international non-profit forest and wildlife conservation organization with current programs in Cambodia. 

Eco-tourism in Cambodia continues despite COVID

The luxury tented camp was designed by renowned Bangkok-based American architect and designer Bill Bensley and opened in December 2018. It is a utopia of sustainability, located between three national parks of Cambodia, with Bensley and his Thai-Khmer business partner Sokoun Chanpreda buying the property in part to help fund anti-poaching and logging within the area and to prevent it the site from being logged to become a mine. 

The hotel funds a team of armed rangers from the Wildlife Alliance NGO and guests can join them on their daily patrols of the forest.  

Cambodia also has popular eco-tourism spots such as Kosal Farms, is one such agricultural business owner in the Kingdom who has used tourism to not only diversify his income but see the potential agri-based tourism offers the country to diversify community income and bring home-grown products to market.

Another is Farmhouse Smiling Gecko, a boutique sustainable resort located around 65 km north of Phnom Penh – which has grown from the humble seeds of a local-Swiss initiated NGO seeking to better the opportunism for the poor and underprivileged people living in a rural area in Cambodia offering something unique. 

The farm-come-project shows perhaps the most complex array of multifaceted initiatives, spanning from horticulture, livestock and poultry breeding, vanilla to scalable upskilling of local communities through onsite carpentry and agri-tourism enterprise endeavors.

Cambodian eco-tourism
Eco-tourism is a form of tourism involving responsible travel to natural areas, conserving the environment, and improving the well-being of the local people.

Sustainability key to long term success

A report by the World Bank (WB) in 2020 said that sustainability in the Kingdom’s tourist sector means not only developing its sites but expanding visitor options. 

“While Angkor Wat in Siem Reap has been the main attraction to Cambodia, statistics show that growth in arrivals to the temple are slowing. Trends of increased visitors to ecotourism sites in Cambodia indicate that ecotourism is a product that could be further developed.”

The report outlined how alternative tourism could help businesses maintain the industry instead while boosting the livelihoods of local communities in more rural areas.  

A late 2020 Asian Development Report (ABD) agreed with efforts towards diversification, saying that to revive tourism successfully, “governments, alongside travel and tourism sectors, need to rebuild tourist confidence and encourage innovation and investment for a resilient and sustainable tourism sector.”

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