UC Attends ASEAN Tourism Conference

By Dr. D. Kyle Latinis, Associate Dean for Graduate Students

 Professor Gina Lopez, Associate Dean for the College of Management, and I accompanied several University of Cambodia (UC) students to the ASEAN Tourism Conference hosted at the Diamond Island Convention & Exhibition Center on January 19, 2011. The half-day event was a part of the ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) 2011, which was hosted in Cambodia this year under the theme “ASEAN: A World of Wonders and Diversity.”

 Presentations focused on eco-tourism, heritage tourism, archaeological sites and sustainability. Inherent in all discussions was the underlying importance of cultural tourism as well. These forms of tourism refer to resources that Southeast Asia harbors in abundance. They are the driving force of the region’s tourism industry. Tourism is one of the world’s leading industries and an even more prominent industry in Southeast Asia (SEA), particularly Cambodia with primary assets such as Angkor Wat. This trend will continue to increase in importance with more international visitation throughout the world.

 The Ministry of Tourism, for example, distributed the Annual Report noting a steady increase in visitor arrivals from 1994 (118,183) to a landmark number in 2010 (2,508,289). Asian visitors have held the top two positions in Cambodia since 2004, with Korea steady at #1 until 2009 when Vietnamese visitors surpassed Korean visitors by almost 120,000. Subsequently, the gap continued to widen in 2010 where Vietnamese travelers had increased the difference by 177,000 visitors. Japan and China have held steady top five positions since 2006. The only western country to remain in the top five list has been the United States. Marketers and tourism designers should pay close attention to these figures and the people they represent. What tourists want out of tourism is just as diverse as the cultures they come from.

 Another point that was a common theme throughout the conference was that humans are an integral part of the history and environment. People must be integrated into plans rather than separated from them. It is problematic when local stakeholders are treated as background clutter that should be moved out, while tourists are targeted as simple, but paying observers who only consume views of ancient sites, historic districts and beautiful scenery. The modern approach must focus on responsible, interactive and educational tourism. It must benefit the resources and the local stakeholders as much as the business itself in order to achieve sustainability. This adds value to the tourist experience. It has the power to benefit more stakeholder groups and contribute more directly to responsible development. Of vital importance, it includes flexible preservation of heritage, ecological and cultural identity with significant stakeholder input.

Several particularly interesting points were delivered by Gordon Grimwade, a researcher from Queensland, whose presentation was entitled, “Archaeology, Heritage Sites and Toursim: Partnerships for the Future.” Covering topics as wide ranging as small archaeological sites to historic Chinatown districts, he noted that the grandiose things such as Angkor are important, but we often overlook the small things. Small things make a lot of difference, from handwritten notes by souvenir and refreshment sellers, to giving the less visually impressive archaeological sites an interesting history against an integrated and exciting environmental and cultural backdrop. These are the things the modern tourist is looking for to extend their stays and enhance their visits. An opportunity to aid in site research and preservation, for example, is equally important for tourists. They want to know that their visit can make a positive contribution to the environment, the heritage resource itself, and the local stakeholders who own that heritage. The cumulative small things effect can have a colossal impact, good or bad depending on the research and management plans.

 I was equally impressed, noting that the concerns and issues raised in the conference are the reasons why I and others at UC are busy designing new programs for Cambodian students and researchers. These new programs are intended to fill the voids demanded from this sector.

ATF is an annual forum that includes all sectors of the tourism industry and is a collaborative effort between ASEAN nations to promote the entire region as one attractive tourist destination. The ten member nations of ASEAN are: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

UC received this invitation to attend from the ATF 2011 Organizing Committee.

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