Travel and Tourism - Cambodia - May 2011
Tourism has had both positive and negative effects on cash-strapped Cambodia. The government and private sector have strongly promoted the country’s ancient temples to potential tourists abroad, who have been arriving in increasing numbers. Visitors to Angkor National Park topped 1.15 million in 2010 – up 25% on 2009, and visitor management and environmental issues have now arisen, particularly around waste disposal, noise, air and water pollution. According to the Global Heritage Fund, a US-based non-profit organisation working to protect heritage sites in developing countries, Angkor, managed by the private Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap (APSARA), is highly endangered.
Political issues with its neighbours have ensued, as its cultural and natural treasures become recognised. In 2011, Thailand and Cambodia have resorted to arms in a prolonged dispute over boundary issues by the UNESCO World Heritage Site Preah Vihear temple ruins, awarded to Cambodia by the World Court in 1962. Progress on a joint development area with Vietnam has been stalled by an unresolved dispute over sovereignty of offshore islands. The dark side of tourism here includes gambling and sex tourism.
Visits to Cambodia’s ecotourism destinations by international visitors rose sharply in 2010, according to the MoT, and its pristine environment is ideal for the development of ecotourism. Efforts are currently focused in the mountainous north-east, as well as the south coast. Sustainable tourism development is a challenge for Cambodia, which needs to deal with the competing demands on the environment such as logging to create plantations, major hydroelectric power plants planned for rivers (funded by Chinese investment) and oil companies sizing up the south coast for exploration.
One rather glum statistic sums up the tourism economy: although every leisure tourist visits Siem Reap, it remains Cambodia’s poorest province. Poverty reduction through tourism remains a cornerstone of government policy, but wealth distribution, for tourism to benefit every Cambodian, remains a key challenge.
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