Cambodia: World Bank initiative to raise $54 million to help develop eco-tourism

A $54 million Cambodia Sustainable Landscape and Eco-tourism Project (CSLEP) will be the World Bank’s largest tourism investment in Cambodia. It will take five years to carry out and will involve seven provinces including the Cardamom Mountains, Southeast Asia’s largest intact rainforest, the Tonle Sap Lake’s flooded forests and Phnom Kulen in Siem Reap.

This comes as tourism operators in the Kingdom are putting pressure on the government to reopen the borders and follow other ASEAN countries to be able to get the economy back on its feet. The call for this as the news broke that Cambodia is the second-most vaccinated country in Southeast Asia behind Singapore. They added that if Cambodia were to open the borders in November, tourists would be visiting an emerging eco-tourism destination.

Ecotourism is classed as “responsible travel that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people”. Often referred to as “nature tourism”, the sole task of ecotourism is to reduce the impact brought on by tourism on the environment, such as litter, habitat loss and soil erosion. It also builds cultural and environmental awareness, encourages positive experiences for new visitors to the eco-tourism scene as well as boosting employment and financial opportunities.

The CSLEP has chosen 16 sites across the Kingdom that will appeal and cater for local and international travellers alike. Money will be invested to upgrade and improve access to the areas, creating new and safe hiking and cycling trails, the building of visitor centres, plus training the locals in hospitality, waste management and litter awareness. Eco-lodges will also be constructed eventually – but first of all campsites will be developed.

Nick Ray, tourism consultant for the CSLEP, was quoted as saying: “Eco-tourism is moving forward globally and is very important in Cambodia. The pandemic has changed this even more as people seek open spaces, nature, meaningful and engaging experiences and sustainable travel. One element to come out of the pandemic is a huge increase in Cambodians camping.”

He continued: “While it’s great to see more Cambodians exploring the wild, this is unregulated. There have been a lot of wildfires, health and safety issues when wild camping on cliff tops, littering and potential damage to endangered flora and fauna. There needs to be a system in place to control this and protect the wildlife and environment.”

Three schemes will kickstart the CSLEP programme: at the seven-tiered Chreav Waterfall in Kampong Speu province, Chrok La Eang Waterfall in Pursat province and Anlong Thom village in the Phnom Kulen National Park. Phnom Kulen is the country’s most sacred mountain and the birthplace of the Khmer Empire with many locals and tourists visiting to leave offerings at the giant reclining Buddha at its peak. This is just one of many places on the list to upgrade and improve to help promote eco-tourism, experts say.