By Beatrice Loh
Responsible tourism is about making better places for people to live, and better places for people to visit – in that order. It aims to minimize negative economic, environmental and social impacts whilst generating greater economic benefits for local people, enhancing the wellbeing of host communities and improving working conditions and access to the industry. Most importantly, it aims to involve local people in decisions that affect their lives. Responsible tourism is culturally sensitive and engenders respect between tourists and hosts.
Tourism in a country that has a recent history of trauma plays an important role in rebuilding society – where and how one spends his or her tourist dollars becomes pertinent. The millions of innocent Cambodian lives lost in the late 1970s in the Killing Fields under the Khmer Rouge regime are one part of the troubled past that Cambodia is still struggling to let go of. Despite the luxury skyscrapers and gleaming skyscrapers, the country is still very much tainted by its history. Disabled beggars wander the streets and children can be seen working at construction sites. In the countryside, millions more scratch out a meager living at the mercy of the temperamental weather and fluctuating crop prices.
The tourism sector does not ignore this dark side of Cambodian society – in fact, disadvantaged locals are often exploited for industry. Orphanages are used to rack up tourist dollars. In some places, children at these orphanages are mere actors to appeal to the sympathy of tourists so they can receive large donations. As such, responsible tourism has become increasingly important to Cambodia. Although the tourism sector is growing, measures must be taken to ensure that profits are directed back to the local community so that standards of living will improve.
Here is a list of 5 companies that are leading the charge on responsible tourism in Cambodia:
- Sister Srey Cafe
Sister Srey Café is one of ConCERT’s (Connecting Communities, Environment & Responsible Tourism) information centers. ConCERT is a not-for-profit social enterprise based in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Its mission is to turn people’s good intentions into the best possible help for the most vulnerable people in Cambodia. The vision at Sister Srey Café is to support young Khmer students who struggle to keep a balance between studying and supporting their family. The café helps by offering these students a flexible roster, fair pay and continuous training. The café also supports other initiatives in different fields – it serves “Three Corners” coffee roast, another social enterprise in Cambodia, and also houses a boutique shops that sells a mixture of vintage clothes, retro jewelry and spa products as well as handmade items from local NGOs. It supports local businessmen and farmers by buying local produce as much as possible. The café attracts tourists by marketing itself as a one-stop information to find out all about Cambodia as well as social initiatives that they can contribute to factoring in their limited time in the country.
Sister Srey Café
Opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 7am – 7pm
Telephone: +855 97 723 8001
Address: Pokambor Ave, Krong Siem Reap
- Artisans d’Angkor
Artisans d’Angkor is a Cambodian company originally created to help young rural people find work near their home village. As an offshoot of the educational project Chantiers-Ecoles de Formation Professionnelle, aiming to provide professional skills to communities with limited educational opportunities, Artisans Angkor has maintained its commitment to education by developing its own training program. Since its inception in the late 1990s, Artisans Angkor has strived to offer good working conditions and social advantages to its employees. It has now opened 42 workshops in Siem Reap province and provides employment to over 1300 people. Over the years, Artisans Angkor has become a real showcase of Khmer workmanship for its silk fabrics and garments, stone and wood carving, lacquer ware, polychrome products, silver plating and silk painting. The company has revived the traditional Khmer arts and crafts tradition and its workshop has become a stop for tour groups visiting the area.
Open daily from 7.30am – 5.30pm
Telephone: +855 63 963 330
Address: Stung Thmey Street, Siem Reap downtown
- Seeing Hands Massage Center
Seeing Hands Massage Center provides massage done by blind masseurs. Shiatsu massage, anma massage and traditional foot massage are available. The center provides one of the best value-for money massages in Cambodia and gives blind people the opportunity to make an independent living. Many of the masseurs have earned diplomas and certificates in massage from overseas institutes in Japan and Singapore. Seeing Hands Massage Center creates employment for members of Cambodia’s blind community. It offers them an independent sustainable income that helps them to lead a relatively normal life. The company has been a great success and there are currently several branches in Phnom Penh, as well as branches in popular tourist cities around the country.
Seeing Hands Massage Center
Telephone: +855 12 680 934
Address: 12 St 13 (Wat Phnom)
- The Cambodia Landmine Museum and School
Founded by Aki Ra, a former member of the Khmer Rouge’s child army, the landmine museum showcases a tragic part of Cambodia’s history, telling the story of landmines in Cambodia and how they have impacted the country’s past, present and future. The story is told through the story of Aki Ra, who spent his youth fighting in the wars that ravaged his country for nearly 35 years. From laying landmines for the Khmer Rouge, he has since turned into someone who has defused thousands of them. The museum charges a small entry fee that goes to the Cambodian Landmine Museum Relief Facility that provides education and support for dozens of at-risk youth and landmine affected children.
The Cambodia Landmine Museum and School
Open daily from 7.30am to 5.30pm
Telephone: +855 15 674 163
Address: Angkor National Park, 7km South of Bantcay Srey Temple, Siem Reap
- Friends the Restaurant
Cambodia has a string of restaurants under the TREE Alliance (Training Restaurants for Employment and Entrepreneurship) that are award winning. Each venue is a social business, training former street children and youths from marginalized or at-risk groups in the skills required to work at a restaurant. All profits from these restaurants go back into the training for youths. One of such restaurants is Friends the Restaurant, run by Mith Samlanh, an organisation that has worked to build the future of former street children and marginalized youth in Phnom Penh since 1994. Located near the National Museum, the restaurant is famous for its legendary frozen shakes, daiquiris and its delicious fusion of Asian and Western style tapas.
Friends the Restaurant
Open daily from 11am – 10.30pm
Telephone: +855 12 802 072
Address: #215 St 13, Phnom Penh, Cambodia