December marks the perfect time of year to reflect on achievements of the past twelve months that seem to slip by. Moreover it is the ideal time to be grateful for our fantastic team, the boundless adventures we have shared, and the contributions we have made along the journey. We are so thankful to all our amazing guests who chose to spend their time travelling with us and believed in our philosophy, it is always our honour to host you and share the wonders of Cambodia with you. As always, Ayana’s most important achievements lie not in profit margins, but in the positive impacts we hope to leave both as we explore hidden corners of the country and beaver away day-to-day in our beautiful hometown of Siem Reap.
Here’s a run through our top highlights of 2019…
Experiential education opportunities for Khmer students
After many years of dreaming up ways we could offer similarly enriching travel opportunities to local students, that many overseas students have the privilege of experiencing with us, we were thrilled to facilitate the This is Ours project this year. In collaboration with two inspirational NGOs, PEPY Empowering Youth and Phare Ponleu Selpak, Khmer students participated in a hands-on arts education program where they gained illustration, photography, and storytelling skills. The end result is collaboratively producing a professionally printed book in which young people share what it is they want the world to know about their culture, community, and environment.
Increasing impact in responsible volunteering advocacy
Our passion for transforming the volunteer travel industry continues and our increased reach with this mission could not be possible without the important partnerships we hold. This year we were thrilled to enter a new relationship with the #HelpingNotHelping campaign led by JK Rowling’s charity Lumos, educating mostly UK travellers about the pitfalls of voluntourism and the endless ethical alternatives. Our partnership with World Challenge continued to grow and our interactive workshops on responsible tourism and volunteering continued to run across the South / South East Asia region, with new facilitator teams trained and introduced in Sabah – Malaysian Borneo, Ho Chi Minh – Vietnam, and Vientiane and Luang Prabang – Laos. Since this work began just two years ago, we are amazed (and incredibly proud) to have reached almost 5,000 students.
Empowering women in travel
It was our honour to present at the ZafigoX event in Kuala Lumpur this year, the only conference of its kind designed to empower women through independent travel. Yut joined a panel discussion on “volunteering and charity when you travel” and shared his experience of the impacts blind aid can have on vulnerable communities in Cambodia, and showcased ways in which Ayana is working to provide more educational and responsible alternatives. The event was attended by mostly Asian women, and was a fantastic platform to discuss the transformative power of ethical travel with female travellers from our region.
Clean and green community
Throughout our tours we are constantly looking for ways to minimise our environmental impact, and are proud to have eliminated all single-use plastic from our day tours for some time now. We also feel it is deeply important to also contribute to the green agenda on our doorstep, and enjoyed supporting a neighbourhood clean-up event earlier this year. We also joined Clean Green Cambodia, a new initiative that brings together the country’s most responsible businesses on one platform, and hosts a range of educational events on the environment throughout the year.
We choose our partners carefully and love collaborating with like-minded tourism businesses who share our responsible tourism values. It is a joy to partner with GOOD Travel, a leading New Zealand ethical travel company, for their Cambodia experiences, and we loved hosting our first GOOD group this March. In June we led our first Walking Tree school, and we’re excited for what the future holds as we collaborate with this exceptional educational travel provider who, like us, are committed to inspire students to become “curious and compassionate global citizens by taking an active interest in the world around them”.
Money isn’t everything but apparently it does make the world go round! Here is a summary of ways we directed much needed funds to inspirational development projects, building the capacity of our local team, and investing in businesses that matter to us:
- $16,500 spent direct to community groups for grassroots services such as homestays
- $24,000 donated to a wide range of development NGOs contributed as donations or payment for workshops
- $2,000 on trainings for our team and key community partners
- $5,000 on social ventures, such as social enterprise restaurants
In addition to these figures we continue to be proud of our ongoing commitment to paying our staff well above the local average (recognising their fantastic knowledge and commitment, as well as ensuring our wages represent a comfortable living wage and more), contributing all taxes (it’s boring but we know many operators don’t, and we are passionate advocates for investing in Cambodia’s development in this way and being completely compliant with the law), and despite some foreign ownership of our business a vast majority of all money associated with our business stays within our community with minimal economic leakage.
If you have any questions or feedback about the content of this review or anything else related to our commitment to social impact tourism, please do reach out.