24 August 2009 ~ 3 Comments

Voluntourists Volunteering to be Tourists! (an example)

In the last post,  I wrote about how voluntourism can be ineffective if the right match between traveler and program is not found. I suggested placing volunteers in a role they are a natural fit for: as tourists.  Here is how this example fits into our work at PEPY in Cambodia. I would be interested to hear from other operators if they think this type of model would work in their areas as well.

In Cambodia, and many other developing areas, a significant portion of tourism dollars never hit the local pockets.  Travelers come for their average stay of less than 3 days, eat imported food, stay in foreign-owned guesthouses paying foreign managers, and only leave a few of their tourism dollars in the country.  Our responsible tourism statement states how we try to counter these issues at PEPY.

We make it clear on our trips that the education portion of our program aimed at effecting future behavior as well as the required fundraising from our tours are the biggest impacts our participants will have on development work. That being said, we sometimes still do want to provide tours which give participants a chance to offer hands-on support to our partner programs.

To counter the less effective voluntourism trips we have offered and mistakes we have made, we have been looking for a way to design our trips to allow our travelers to learn about and support our work at PEPY while also contributing with their time. We looked at the most effective and least effective trips we have offered and tried to find what made the best matches successful. From there, we began to see that, by designing trips which improve the local adventure tourism supply chain, we could place travelers in a position where both their time and funding were valuable while also helping to ensure that tourism dollars were available to support local initiatives.

There are many community based tourism initiatives available throughout Cambodia but many of these do not get the recognition or guest counts that they might otherwise get if their marketing and promotions were designed by people who better understood the needs and desires of foreign tourists.

PEPY Tours are being designed to connect guests with community based tourism programs to give travelers a way to help these community initiatives.  By reviewing their tourism offerings, making suggestions for improvements, and in some cases enacting those improvements themselves, travelers can help effect many rungs of the adventure tourism supply chain in Cambodia.

Here is an example of our Community Based Tourism Development initiative:

The Situation: The community of Kampong Sammaki in Kampot Province worked together to protest against the illegal grabbing of their mangrove forest.  They were successful in protecting this land (one of the few successful cases in Cambodia) and decided that they would like to create community based mangrove tour options as a further incentive to keep the area from being destroyed.  They have a community-owned boat, they have a beautiful mangrove area, and they have delicious local seafood, but they do not have much public awareness about their product nor do they have information in English for travelers. There are partner organizations working with them to protect the mangrove area, but helping them to develop a tourism infrastructure or providing foreign consultants to make suggestions about tour offering development is not within the scope of their partnership. They reached out to us at PEPY to see if this was something we could advise on.

Our staff were recently introduced to this project as a potential addition to our tourism options.  When we went to visit the community leadership team, we recognized the potential for this area to be visited by tourists who could learn a lot from the history of this village’s fight to protect their land as well as learn about the importance of mangroves to the local ecosystems.  We also saw a well networked community which was already primed to take tourism dollars and channel them back into their community fund to patrol the mangrove forest for people illegally harvesting timber.  Unlike many other groups with natural habitats into which they are looking to expand tourism, we felt that this one, with a strong community commitment to begin with, was primed to successfully harness tourism into protection of their land where as other groups might show signs of leaning towards corruption or further natural degradation from tourism development.

The Problem: The main barriers to successful tourism development we could see where: few people currently know about the project and there no English speakers or English information available for guests.

PEPY Tours Initiative: We have plans to bring two upcoming tours to support this program in a “voluntourism” approach. (After that, we would then of course be able to include the site in our on-going tour options as a stop to visit and learn from the community.)  These two upcoming trips will help support the community tourism initiatives at Kampong Sammaki by:

  • Taking pictures of different mangrove species, protected and damaged forest area, local flora and fauna, and important community leaders
  • Researching information about mangrove protection and regrowth as well as articles about the Kampong Sammaki historical protection of their land
  • Gathering this information and creating the text to be put together into a guide book which will be printed by PEPY Tours and given to the local community to use in their tour operations (It will be laminated as to be suitable for use in boats and given to all members of the CBO to use during their turn in the rotating tour offerings)
  • Reviewing and making suggestions for improvements on their current tour offerings
  • Helping to design/build a sign on the main road directing people to Kampong Sammaki Village

Logistics: A professional graphic designer will be invited to join the tour at a discounted rate and volunteer there services for a minimum of two weeks post-tour to help create the final product of any marketing materials and the English information guide.

Desired Outcomes: Kampong Sammaki will have more funding to support the redevelopment and protection of their mangrove forest, travelers will have a new tourism destination spot and educational material to read during their journey, and PEPY Tours guests will contribute further ideas to improve the tourism infrastructure of the area.

Overall, if this is successful, we will channel the skills and desire to give back within our trip part

  • Eric

    Hi Daniela,nnFirst of all, thanks for sharing both your experience (good & bad) and the “slices of life” in Cambodia… I’ve been brought back to my own experiences on several occasions.nnAfter readin gthis post (and seeing the posting date – a bit more than a year ago)), it would actually be interesting to now have your reflections / feedback on the outcome of the project and of course… the learnings you got from it.nnLooking forward to reading more about it and many more topics,nnBest wishes!nn

  • Anonymous

    Hi Eric – nnFunny you should write this week! I JUST sent a post last week to the participants who joined us on The PEPY Ride V as they had been involved in this project. I was giving them a “One Year Later” update. To be honest, in this case, the project does not have amazing results to share. I do not think that is because of a failure in the model of how we wanted to help but instead in our choice of partner location. In this case, the tourism program had not even started yet, but we had been informed that there was interest and that tourism was coming there way. In actual fact, once we visited a few times, we realized that the momentum to solidify their tourism offerings were spearheaded by a few people, but not necessarily positioned to take off. As such, it would make sense to do this type of work with a tourism program which was more solidified and in need of refinement, promotion, or new ideas rather than an early stage project which lacked the necessary leadership.nnFor example, a few weeks ago we had a group of students with us for a few weeks from an international school. They joined us for a two night homestay at a rural temple complex where there has been a community based tourism program for a number of years. The group organized specified English workshops for the restaurant and food preparation staff, the homestay families, and the local guides. This meant that, even though they were only their two nights, the trainings they were giving about vocabulary to be used with homestay guest was applicable to their jobs and will ideally help them increase their interactions with future guests. That is the type of thing I think we should do more of.nnThanks for checking in!n- Danielan—nnBelow is the section of the email to the PRV guests about Kompong Sammaki if you are interested in an update in that area:nnHello PEPY Ride V Team -nnWow…. can you believe it has almost been a year since you came out to Cambodia and met each other for the first time? As we are gearing up for round VI, it is hard to believe that a year has already passed since you pedaled onwards.nnI wanted to give an update, especially with regards to Kompong Sammaki. This is something I know you are likely all interested in hearing about, and something I wish I had more positive news to report on. During the trip last year, we had grand goals of supporting the K.S. team in their stated desire to create an eco-tourism program in their community mangrove site. That said, when it came time for the visit (while you were with us), there was some misalignment with our previous discussions and what was happening on the ground – both in terms of how our trip was handled financially by the group, as well as the solidity with which their group was looking to approach tourism. We invited the K.S. management team to a Community Based Ecotourism meeting in Phnom Penh and brought their team up to Phnom Penh for it, but found that the project was not far enough along, both internally, and from the network’s development, to be able to benefit from the relationship. Rithy has been the main point of contact with the K.S. team and has found that there has been little movement from their team internally to pursue a tourism approach. nnIt doesn’t seem that K.S. is the best match for a tourism support program for PEPY Tours, but we will keep you posted as we visit with them again in the coming weeks. That said, your support and funding for PEPY’s programs are having a more successful impact, and I believe you would be very impressed with the improvements at PEPY since you were last here. We are also expecting the arrival of a new director, a Cambodian woman who completed her graduate degrees in the US, from mid January – and we are all excited about what will likely turn into a localization process at PEPY.nnFollow along with us, come visit us, and fill us in on your work. We’d love to be kept in the loop and hope everyone is doing VERY well! Give us an update!nnHugs – D