Visioning workshop for developing world class wildlife tourism in Mondulkiri province
Using the Open Standards Conservation Planning process, envoys of the Cambodian ministries of Tourism (MoT) and Ministry of Environment (MoE), Mekong Tourism Board, Government of India’s Karnataka Ecotourism Board, as well as WWF-Cambodia conducted a conference in order to develop a joint vision for the implementation of tiger-based wildlife tourism in the Mondulkiri province—a workshop which was also supported by the EU.
Aiming out to achieve set milestones by 2030 also involved the discussion of critical actions required to successfully establish world class wildlife tourism, with the outcomes of firstly bringing benefits to the area’s inhabitants and secondly opening doors to sustainably finance protected area management and conservation within the province. WWF-Cambodia’s country director Seng Teak’s opening speech started off the workshop, which was held from 4th to 6th October at Hotel Sunway, Phnom Penh.
Mr. Meas Sophal (Ministry of Environment) summarized recent plans and conceivable specific economic benefits closely linked to the reintroduction of tigers into Cambodia’s Eastern Plains Landscape, and Jens Thraenhart from the Mekong Tourism Board informed the audience about general tourism trends—global and in the Mekong region.
Elaborating the purport of his previous speaker, Vinay Lutra (Karnataka Ecotourism Board, Government of India) depicted observations and gave examples of fruitful wildlife tourism practice in India, including a program in which by voluntarily converting their property into wildlife-friendly land and therefore creating new corridors called “community reserves”, locals are being paid by the government. He pointed out four lessons learned from their country’s tiger conservation, some of which may seem obvious but yet are of highest priority: the required strict area protection, suitable prey numbers, intact habitat, and last but not least, gene pool mixing.
The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) of India earmarks tourist transport restrictions of 40 jeeps per day inside tiger areas, as well as a total ban of private vehicles. Also, due to the fact that the sight of a tiger can by far not be guaranteed to visitors and tour participants but the species’ conservation also leads to a generally healthier ecosystem, even tiger-based ecotourism can set out to focus on general wildlife viewing: bringing people closer to nature, letting them experience ecological sensitivity, and ultimately enabling locals to earn revenues. Newly built jungle lodges in India are all located outside of forest land, are mostly composed of local material and, as they don’t feature air-conditioning or television for example, are kept rather simple. Including all meals and safari activities, one charges some three hundred dollars for a night in high season, and yet the occupancy amounts to 95% at least, while classic hotels and home-stays remain a popular alternative to mid-level and younger tourists.
When applied to Cambodia, the numbers are expected to remain just as prosperous, and the country even harbours some benefits, for example when comparing current tourists counts: Cambodia is twenty times smaller than India, but attracts with approximately 5 million compared to 8.8 million people (both as of 2016) already more than half of India’s annual foreign visitor numbers. A few ten-thousand visitors in Sen Monorom, the capital of Mondulkiri, and other destinations in the Eastern Plains Landscape would greatly contribute to covering the Protected Area’s management costs, and as the EPL is far bigger than Indian tiger areas, downsides like human-wildlife conflict are exclusionary. Former articles and videos have proven local inhabitants’ support for the project.
In an interview, H.E. Dr. Thong Khon, Minister of Tourism, stated: “We know that Cambodia is a popular destination for culture tourism. We are now given the chance to also develop ecotourism, which enjoys increasing popularity around the world. Cambodia can be one of the countries that captivate with their rich wildlife—especially when tigers are brought back.”
The workshop found its end after debating to which extent potential entrance fees for tourists would be split amongst the ministries, community development and tourism services, but that the proposals of four independent working groups did not differ fundamentally promises an easy-going agreement in the future.
The Government of Cambodia and WWF-Cambodia as well as other partners will keep continuing their work on the project, aiming to ensure benefits for Cambodian wildlife and local inhabitants.