Monday, March 31, 2008

Tourism that makes a difference - Cambodia

Over two million tourists a year visit the Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia, one of the great wonders of the world. The numbers are dramatically increasing yet most people only stay in the region for two days and few venture beyond the glory of the temples to discover the wonders of this diverse and amazing country. And by neglecting to do so, many people miss out on the opportunity to inject money into Cambodia, one of the poorest countries in Asia.

So how can you ensure your tourist dollar is making a difference?

Stay Another Day is an initiative that promotes sustainable tourism. In other words, tourism which is commercially viable and more importantly, creates broader benefits for the community. By encouraging people to stay a little longer and buy local products, Stay Another Day encourages tourists to get to know Cambodia and have a richer and more rewarding experience. In turn, this makes sure that the tourist dollar makes a difference and improves the welfare of local people.

Every hotel room in Siem Reap (and Phnom Penh) holds the key to the Stay Another Day experience with a booklet outlining the options. And within the booklet, the options are endless – silk products, arts and craft, divine cuisine, entertainment, ecotourism, agriculture initiatives and much more. You can even get involved in projects that help families facing severe illness with much-needed housing repairs.

Today, I visited a silk farm that is part of Artisans Angkor, an organization that trains young people in the traditional art of silk weaving. This organization offers students from rural areas the opportunity to learn how to weave high quality silk, in a supportive and empowering environment – and the results are definitely positive.

On arrival, we were greeted by a tour guide who cheerfully and enthusiastically guided us through the process of making silk – from growing mulberry trees and breeding silk worms to carefully weaving the fabric.

Weaving silk is not an easy task and involves a high level of expertise. It’s no surprise then that the applicants must pass skill and motivation tests before being selected. The successful participants are taught the art of silk making and the end result is exquisite silk that is beautiful and soft to touch. The shop at the end of the tour displays a range of fantastic products and I purchase a delicate scarf with relative ease!

Initially supported by the European Union, Artisans Angkor is now self-sustaining with extra stores in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Hong Kong Airports. The artisans have set up an association so employees (students and graduates) have a voice in the decision making process and receive a fair share of the profits.

Over the next week I will be visiting other initiatives where tourism can make a difference.

NZAID supports the work of Stay Another Day through ongoing support to Mekong Private Sector Development Facility (IFC-MPDF), a multi-donor funded initiative set up by the International Finance Corporation to reduce poverty. It operates in Cambodia, Lao PDR and Viet Nam.

For more information visit

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Mekong Institute

Khon Kaen is the commercial and political centre of northeastern Thailand. With a population of over 3 million people, the city is home to the Mekong Institute, an innovative intergovernmental organization that promotes learning and regional cooperation between Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam. The institute is funded by NZAID to deliver practical training and research opportunities to leaders and policy makers so they in turn can teach others and build the skills within their own organizations and/or countries.

Building capacity is a phrase often used in aid and development. It may sound like jargon to many of us but the work of the Mekong Institute is an illustration of what it means to upgrade the skills and expertise of others.

Right now, the institute is providing practical training and hands-on experience to young professionals in rural development, trade and investment, public sector reform and effective regional cooperation in the areas of tourism, conflict management and human migration. The six-month course includes field trips and a range of projects that will in turn help the region alleviate poverty. With the skills learnt here, these young professionals will be able to pass on their experience and knowledge to others in their home country and the flow-on impact has the potential to be huge.

The students that I met are enthusiastic about the course and potential it offers them. They are learning how to train others, write proposals, monitor projects and achieve results – putting them in good stead to make a difference to the future of the region. It’s a positive step towards building a more prosperous future.

For more information, visit

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