Over the past few weeks we have been following discussions unfold on ‘over-tourism‘ and simultaneously reflecting on our role as committed responsible travel practitioners – how can we safeguard the Kingdom of Wonder from this challenge?
In simple, over-tourism is about mounting pressure from too many tourists in one place at one time. Like destinations all over the world, Cambodia has begun to experience over-tourism at times, particularly at our national treasure: the temples of Angkor. There are a variety of factors that may have caused this – an increase of budget flights, global exposure of the “world’s best site“, and general affordability of the destination. It seems every traveller wants a piece of the action, and we don’t blame them! Naturally, we think Cambodia is a breathtaking and fascinating place to visit, and maintaining it as a culturally rich and tranquil destination is in the interest of the tourism industry and locals alike.
Here are some of the key ways we are committed to mitigating the impacts of over-tourism in our own community:
- Keeping group sizes small and exclusive – Smaller group sizes create more intimate and enriching environments, so we are big fans of limiting how many people we take on trips at one time. Moreover, this reduces the burden of hosting our stay, particularly at fragile locations.
- Getting off the beaten track – Otherwise known as ‘visitor dispersion’, we value the approach of getting visitors off the beaten track. We are passionate about connecting visitors to quieter locations in respectful ways. This spreads visitors across bigger areas and brings economic benefits to communities that might not otherwise benefit from the tourism economy. We do this by exploring backstreets on our Secrets of Siem Reap morning tour, as well as most of our longer tours too.
- Exploring key sites in unique ways – No trip to Cambodia is complete without experiencing the beauty of Angkor, and the secret is out! For those seeking to escape the crowds we visit popular sites through carefully designed approaches. For example, our Spirit of Angkor exploration of the UNESCO site combines connecting you to the ‘must see’ temples, but with in-the-know time management and discovering hidden gems at the same time.
- Embracing the real Cambodia – As a team of curious locals, we love to connect our guests to experience Cambodia in the way we do and love. We recently wrote about our approach to ‘authentic travel’; our commitment to ‘real’ life interactions that allow you to see Cambodia through a local’s eyes. An example of this is our Sunset Foodies evening tour – much like hanging out with an old friend and being shown their favourite eateries not found on the tourist trail.
- Learning journeys – We encourage our guests to reflect on their impact as a traveller and provide platforms for them to enjoy a meaningful trip. Lessons learned on a transformational holiday can impact guests’ responsible travel behaviour in the future. By raising awareness about tourism related issues, travellers become informed ambassadors and activists in Cambodia and beyond.
- Prioritising local services – As tourism booms local people can sadly sometimes get left or pushed out. We believe local people should always benefit from tourism, and as a result, engage with as many local services providers as possible. This supports family owned and responsible businesses, as well as providing an insightful and memorable experience to our visitors.
- Fair trade travel – For the last couple of decades many businesses have taken advantage of Cambodia’s fairly relaxed approach to legal compliance. As a result, prices have been rock bottom and many travellers have flocked to enjoy cheap prices. As the country overhauls these systems, prices are increasing to ensure people are paid fairly whilst contributing to important things like tax. Since we founded as a company we have ensured we meet and exceed legal requirements, and our prices reflect this. We advise travellers to be cautious of dirt-cheap rates elsewhere; there is no such thing as a free lunch!