Enabling ecotourism development in Cambodia

3 Sep 2020

Iconic Cambodian ecosystems, including the Cardamom Ranges, have a wealth of natural assets allowing fresh and exciting multi-day tourism routes for domestic and foreign markets. Moreover, the remoteness of the picturesque forested ecosystems of Cambodia also entices the mid-to-high-end tourist market, who wants to unplug and unwind.


The tourism industry in Cambodia is a significant contributor to its economic development. It provides a substantial boost to the economy of Cambodia (21 percent of GDP in 2019), which has been growing over the last ten years. The ecotourism business was a major part of this and has shown signs of much stronger development in recent years than the rest of the tourism industry.


However, a recent slowdown in tourism development in Cambodia points to the need for the sector to diversify. Angkor Wat in Siem Reap has become Cambodia's biggest attraction, and although the legendary temples still draw tourists, figures indicate that growth is declining in arrivals to Angkor sites. Experts say it is due to fewer Chinese tourists visiting Siem Reap that the decelerated rise in tourist arrivals. These tourists are now gradually attracted to the coastal areas of Cambodia. Another explanation is that higher competition from neighboring countries, especially Vietnam, is pulling tourists from China and South Korea away from Siem Reap.


Trends of increased tourists to Cambodia's ecotourism sites suggest that ecotourism is a commodity that can be further grown to exploit its potential and the Cambodian government needs to build on that value. Developing tourism will also generate much-needed revenues to help maintain the vast protected area (PA) network in Cambodia and secure vital forest-based economic services in the PAs.


"Invest now in the development of ecotourism to: DIVERSIFY the tourism commodity of Cambodia with ecotourism offers; CREATE jobs and Boost rural economies; and Preserve the forest properties underpinning ecotourism" It is one of the main messages proposed in the recently published World Bank Advisory Report on Supporting Ecotourism Development in Cambodia; a report produced to assist the Royal Government of Cambodia in the field of sustainable ecotourism. One of the key principles advocated in the study is about investing and diversifying the country's tourism, which is part of the Bank's larger plan to maintain the country's natural resources sustainably and improve its ties to the economy.


COVID-19 is a further reason to diversify tourism offers in the country. "BUILD BACK BETTER after COVID-19 by investing in ECOTOURISM in the tourism sector" is another primary message promoted in the World Bank's advisory paper. If more citizens become unemployed due to COVID-19's effects, they are more likely to turn to illegal activities to raise revenue, such as drug trade and harvesting of animals, and clearing forests for agriculture. Thus, encouraging the growth of ecotourism in Cambodia is an integral aspect of the post-COVID-19 recovery strategy for Cambodia. It is also an essential ingredient that can pave the way for the Cambodian people to develop a more stable economy, which can in turn improve healthy livelihoods and rural job creation.