Community Based Ecotourism
When Wildlife Alliance began working in the Cardamom Mountains of Cambodia, the impoverished commune of Chi Phat was renowned as a hub of wildlife smuggling and illegal logging. An appraisal of the region’s resources and economic development options spotlighted tourism as the best opportunity to preserve the vulnerable ecosystem and provide the communities with a better livelihood.
Wildlife Alliance initiated its community-based ecotourism project in Chi Phat commune in 2007. Using the APPA methodology developed by The Mountain Institute, each site is run by a committee of villagers with technical assistance and financial support from Wildlife Alliance. By creating stakeholders out of local residents, the impetus to keep improving the project is strong and those villagers who have joined the CBET and participated in its activities have seen their incomes grow exponentially. Other small enterprises have also sprung up around the project and less and less people are engaging in illegal activities. Tourism to Chi Phat is increasing each year.
In Chi Phat, Wildlife Alliance and the community members are working together to preserve the environment while providing exciting and unique experiences for visitors. Villagers who once roamed the forest to deplete it of its environmental heritage are now employed as guides leading trekking, mountain-biking, camping, and river boat tours through the wilderness surrounding both communities. Over 200 kilometers of hiking trails meander through the jungle, leading to natural wonders in the rainforest, deserted waterfalls, campsites, and post-Angkorian burial jar sites.
Villagers also operate homestays, guest houses, motorbike taxi services, and restaurants, giving visitors further insight into rural life in Cambodia. CBET Committee members are elected to lead the management of the project and provided ongoing training as they perform bookings, arrange itineraries, do accounting, and oversee community ranger patrols. A community waste management system has also been developed - one of the first of its kind in Cambodia.
The Cambodian Government has recognized Wildlife Alliance’s project in Chi Phat as an exemplar for ecotourism in Cambodia. Increasingly, the international community is recognizing the Cardamoms as an ideal destination for ecotourism.
--The New York Times Travel Section featured the region in an article and slideshow in April 2011.
--The Koh Kong Conservation Corridor was chosen as one of the Top Ten Regions in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2010 annual publication and in the Wall Street Journal.
--Lonely Planet has also singled out Wildlife Alliance’s program in Chi Phat as the best community-based ecotourism destination in Cambodia, highlighting the increasing appeal of its locally run guesthouses, restaurants, and outdoor activities.
--Wall Street Journal-Asia raves “poverty was the root cause of wildlife and forest loss in the Cardamoms … ecotourism offered the possibility both of alleviating poverty and leading villagers to see value in the nature surrounding them."