On Nov. 10 to 14, 2018, Catherine GERMIER-HAMEL, Founder & CEO of Millennium Destinations, carried out a short fact-finding mission in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in order to collect information on innovative inititiaves in the fields of community-based tourism and education, and share ideas and insights with relevant stakeholders in these areas.
This was an opportunity to work together with French Visual Artist Ulla REIMER who is currently living in Cambodia where she is offering creative workshops for visitors and locals.
The mission started with a meeting on Nov. 2, with Ms. Sophea SOK, an Ecotourism and Community-Based Tourism (CBT) Expert, who has worked with Cambodia Community-Based-Ecotourism Network, and is now serving as Quality and Standards Expert at the Regional Secretariat for ASEAN Tourism Professionals. The discussion focused on the opportunity to mainstream CBT and to change the business model of CBT so that local communities really benefit from tourism. Moreover, it appeared necessary to work closely with community-leaders to overcome language and culture barriers. Check the ASEAN Community-Based Tourism standards here.
This meeting was followed by a visit of Light of Mercy Home, a center for children with disabilities (deaf, blind or hindered by old illness), founded in 1997 by two sisters, Sr. Marie-Adelphe, Providence Sister, and Sr. Denise, sister of Mercy. Nowadays, 31 children and youths live in the center.
Ulla REIMER has been working with these children - even the blind ones - to teach them art photography as an empowerment tool. At the same time, the purpose is to promote the different eco-activities of the center, for example through the newly installed Aquaponics system for urban farming, combining pisciculture with soilless plant culture (hydroponics). Many of the children appear to be smart and talented, both artistically and technically, but are usually not offered satisfactory career options.
On Nov. 14, Catherine and Ulla paid a visit to Ms. Anne CHAPALAIN, Deputy-Country Director of the Agence Française de Développement (French Development Agency - AFD)'s office in Cambodia.
Tourism has been identified as a key growth driver for Cambodia, which has welcomed 5.6 million foreign tourists in 2017, i.e. a 11.8 % increase, mostly concentrated in Siem Reap (Angkor Vat) and Phnom Penh. To reach the target of 7.5 million tourists by 2020, the sector would need 500.000 additional professionals. It seems indispensable not only to diversify the offer with new, dispersed experiences, including ecotourism, but also to develop more skilled human resources throughout the country.
Against this background, AFD is supporting a 20-year project (2015-2035), through the financing (loan and grant) of two components:
In September this year, France and Cambodia have expressed their willingness to strengthen tourism cooperation through an MoU, based on the French know-how in tourism engineering and destination development, management, and promotion.
On the same day, a meeting was organized with Mr. Songthoul FERNANDEZ, Founder and CEO of Kennary Tours, a Phnom-Penh-based travel agency established in 1999 with a strong commitment to solidarity and social responsibility. Around 180 houses have been built in poor areas thanks to the donations of Kennary's clients and supporters.
Mr. Songthoul highlighted the need to diversify inbound markets, to increase flight connections with Cambodia, to increase the duration of the stays, and to develop new alternative destinations. Whereas game tourism in Sihanoukville has become a key tourist attraction for the Chinese market, Cambodia offers many unique intangible assets that would appeal to Westerners.
Moreover, a better organization and management of tour guides is required in other to secure the best level of services to visitors. Catherine mentioned that Cambodia has the potential to become a key tourism destination, based on a strong vision shared by all stakeholders, a branding strategy focused on quality, sustainability, and inclusiveness, and a bottom-up approach considering the needs and interests of local communities.
Finally the mission was concluded by a dinner with colleagues and friends met at the 2016 Mekong Tourism Forum in Sihanoukville: Ms. Nancy Jaffe, Director and Head of Strategy & Research of Mango Tango, one of the leading advertising agencies in Phnom Penh, Ms. Marissa Carruthers, Southeast Asia-based freelance journalist and editor of AsiaLife Cambodia, and Ms. Katerina Kim.
Millennium Destinations will plan a mission during the first quarter of 2019, within the framework of the Herost project, aimed at developing an innovative CBT business model in South East Asia.