Sustainable Benefits from Tourism
The village of Andong Reusey, located about 120 km from Phnom Penh, has been famous for the development of clay and ceramic pottery for thousands of years. More recently, it has become a stop for tourists interested in everyday village life. However, local residents felt they were experiencing few economic benefits from the increasing number of visitors to their community. For Rith Sam Ol, a senior lecturer at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP), this dilemma created an opportunity for students in her community-based tourism (CBT) course to test newly acquired knowledge and skills.
Dr. Sam Ol wanted “to encourage our university program and students to develop a sense of social and environmental responsibility.” A grant from the United Board gave her and her colleagues the means to incorporate a service-learning dimension into the CBT course. A problem-solving approach, she believed, offered the best route to connect theory with practice and help students appreciate the need for “vulnerable and marginalized poor communities in resource-rich destinations to receive sustainable benefits from ecotourism, community-based tourism, or cultural tourism.”
During a needs assessment trip to Andong Reusey, Dr. Sam Ol was pleased to see the close interaction between students and residents. “They seemed to be able to understand each other well and were eager to collaborate whenever possible,” she said. Their discussions yielded a list of ways in which students could help, and teams were formed to work on legal registration of the CBT site with the Ministry of Tourism, raising awareness of CBT with local stakeholders, further study of current tourism products, and market mechanisms to increase sales.
What did students learn over the course of three months? In meetings with local and provincial authorities, oral histories with village elders, and outreach to tour operators, they learned that soft skills in communication are as important as theory and principles. Time and patience are needed to work through government registration processes. Sustained training is needed to turn good ideas into successful tourism practices. The students also recognized they have resources to share: they designed a promotional leaflet, set up a Facebook page, and invited community representatives to exhibit their products at a cultural festival on the RUPP campus.
One reason that service-learning appeals to students, Dr. Sam Ol finds, is that they want “to add value to their CVs.” Through her careful planning of this course, students also will bring values – such as integrity, compassion, and social conscience – to their future professions in tourism.
This article first appeared in the June 2016 issue of Horizons.