Rebranding Cambodia: Focus on Sustainability to Boost Cambodian Tourism

Rebranding Cambodia: Focus on Sustainability to Boost Cambodian Tourism

If you were planning to spend two weeks in Cambodia, what would your itinerary be like? Can you name five places worth visiting? Unless you spend a fair amount of time there, Cambodia is probably its best travel destination. According to Jacques Guichandut, managing director of All Dreams Cambodia, a socially and environmentally responsible travel agency, the collective impression of Cambodia is not doing the country any favors.

To uncover Cambodia’s many hidden sights, faces and places, Jacques turns to mindful tourism to attract new travelers. As mindful tourism continues to gain traction around the world, modern travelers are looking for more fulfilling trips – trips that will help them connect with local communities and experience destinations in authentic ways.

Sustainability has truly become the name of the game.

Hence, the #ONESTEPNOPLASTIC campaign was launched in July 2022 by All Dreams Cambodia and musician Tos Yerng to combat plastic pollution in Cambodia and promote Cambodia as a sustainable and attractive tourist destination.

How this movement came to be is an interesting story.

Tos Yerng is a musical group consisting of Monika Virak and Honging Thorng, two artists who wrote and performed a song promoting the 5Rs called “Reject, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Remind”. When they met Jacques Guichandut of All Dreams Cambodia, their mission became clear – to unite as many people as possible, including tourism professionals, to contribute to a cleaner environment and make Cambodia a more popular destination for tourists Welcome destination.

Together they decided to launch the #ONESTEPNOPLASTIC campaign and spread it over 6 months, each time cleaning up in a different city.

The event started in Kep on 31st July and moved to Siem Reap on 27th August. It was then held in Kratie on September 17 and most recently in Phnom Penh on October 22. The next stop for the campaign is Battambang on 15th November and will conclude on 8th December 2022 at the RUPP Free Plastics event at the Royal University of Phnom Penh in the capital. There Tos Yerng will present a music video titled Re-Five, using clips from all seven locations in Cambodia.

All of this, in order to methodically rebrand Cambodia in the public eye.

Cambodia’s return to Asia’s tourism scene is positive, but also shaky. Despite a slow start, tourism recovery across Cambodia is picking up pace.According to the Ministry of Tourism, Cambodia welcomes The number of international tourists in the first seven months of 2022 will be 740,000, a significant increase of 560% compared to the same period last year.

However, these figures pale in comparison to neighboring countries in the region, some of which opened much later than Cambodia but surprisingly keep tourists coming back – which is why the likes of #ONESTEPNOPLASTIC is a carbon neutral movement that is not only inspiring but essential.

On July 31, 55 participants (representatives of partner organisations, volunteers and media professionals) collected 1,200 kg of waste in Whitehorse. In Siem Reap on 27 August, the clean-up campaign saw increased participation, with more than 300 participants, including 70 tourism and hospitality businesses, environmental NGOs, social enterprises and even tourists, collecting 1,500 kilograms of rubbish.

Among its environmental commitments, All Dreams Cambodia calculates the carbon footprint of each activity in order to offset it by purchasing carbon credits or supporting ecological projects in partnership with the Ministry of Environment. Additionally, All Dreams Cambodia provides free drinking water to all participants during each cleanup operation. This filtered water was purchased from TEUK SAAT 1001, which also donated $2 to the association for each participant to provide free drinking water to a primary school child for a year.

We recently caught up with Jacques Guichandut, Managing Director of All Dreams Cambodia, to get a quick look at Cambodia’s tourism industry, the impact of collective perception on a country, and the country’s tourism recovery.

“The main challenge for the industry is to come back and be an attractive place to work again.”

Q: According to your observation, how has the tourism industry in Cambodia performed since it reopened some time ago?

Jacques: I have to say we have a lot of hope for this reopening because we were one of the first countries to reopen on November 15th. Cambodia has been one of the leaders in dealing with Covid. We thought we’d get a lot of requests and bookings, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. The main reason is that before the main tourists in Cambodia were Asians – Chinese accounted for 45%, as well as Japanese, Koreans and so on. Many of these countries are still closed, or not fully open.

So the only countries we can count on are long-haul destinations like Europe and the US. But for tourists from these regions, Cambodia is seen as an extension of a trip to Vietnam or Thailand rather than a single destination. As long as those countries don’t fully reopen, we don’t have real tourists. We have visitors from Singapore because it’s the only destination where people can actually come in. Also, we do not have direct flights from the US and Europe.

Today, we are one of the least visited countries in Asia compared to Bali and Thailand, which are doing pretty well. Cambodia is at the end.

Q: Usually it is the end of peak season, what do you expect?

Jacques: Bookings from October to December have been increasing, but we are nowhere near the 2019 numbers, which is our point of reference. By 2022, we’re going to be 20% to 25% of the 2019 numbers…that’s pretty bad.

Q: What do you see as the challenges in getting tourism back on track?

Jacques: It will take time, but it is about changing the image of Cambodia. Likewise, for Europeans, South Americans, Americans…the only thing you can see in Cambodia is Angkor and the temples.

But Cambodia has much more to offer.that’s why The #ONESTEPNOPLASTIC campaign aims to go to different places and show travelers that there are other things to do, they can spend two weeks in Cambodia and then go home after enjoying the trip. One of the hallmarks of Cambodia is the diversity of its landscape and of course its people – at least to me, one of the most fascinating in Southeast Asia. Plus, there’s the beautiful countryside.

Q: In terms of tourism, what is your outlook for the coming year?

Jacques: It’s hard to predict, but the Ministry of Tourism plans to return to 2019 numbers by 2025 or 2026. I hope we can achieve it by 2024. One factor that could help us achieve this could be the Indian market. There has been a lot of discussion and negotiation about direct flights – because for any destination the key is to have direct flights. The Indian embassy is indeed pushing for direct flights next year.

If that happens, we could reach the 2019 numbers sooner than planned. Because it will take some time for the Chinese to travel abroad, so we can’t count on them next year. They will definitely be back, but not at the level of 2019.

Q: Do you think Cambodia’s hospitality industry is ready for new challenges after learning the lessons of the pandemic?

Jacques: That’s a great question…I hope so (laughs)! The key is human resources. A lot of talented people working in the hospitality industry have left and won’t be coming back. So the main challenge for the industry is to come back and become an attractive place to work again. It’s not easy.

The government has already organized some training sessions with the Cambodian Tourism Association, so I am very confident that we will successfully meet this great challenge. Some hotels haven’t reopened yet – only 40% of hotels in Siem Reap have reopened – so it really depends on the region. In the business district, the hotel has good coverage, so this is not a problem. In some parts of the south, hotels are managed because there are a lot of local tourists out there. The key for me is to focus on places like Siem Reap where things might not be so good. But I believe we will find solutions to all these challenges.

Featured image courtesy of All Dreams Cambodia

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