Chai, travel agent | Phnom Penh, Cambodia | January 6, 2010
Chai has owned a travel agency in Phnom Penh since 2002 and teaches at local universities on the economy of tourism. He also directs and produces films.
About Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia and the country’s largest city. It’s also the nation’s center of economic and political activity.
LPT: What do you think about tourism in Phnom Penh or Cambodia?
Chai: Yeah, of course, tourism is one of the government’s priorities. In our economy, the first one is agriculture, second one is garment factories, and third one is tourism. So tourism brings the figures in international economy a lot. Yeah, and in 2009, we received more than 2 million tourists and the GDP was more than 1 billion in US dollars. Both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap depend on international tourist arrivals.
LPT: That’s a lot.
Chai: Yeah, and tourism can employ labors…local labors – 300,000 people. Doing tourism and related services, like transportation, food and beverage and souvenirs can also bring some income to Cambodian farmers because they plant vegetables and sell them to restaurants and to hotels.
LPT: So everybody wins.
Chai: Everybody is happy, you know. Transportation is not only public transportation or big transport companies but also the privately owned transports are surviving off of tourism. Like tuk tuks, these are privately owned transports.
Yeah, and the tour guides. And also, at some of the destinations, you maybe notice how the children earn money from tourists? Of course in Siem Reap, it’s well managed, well organized, so they don’t allow children to go inside the temple and guide tourists.
But at other tourism destinations that are out of the control of the government. When the tourists arrive, nobody provides services to the tourists, except only the local kids. Small children from 10 years old to 15 years old who are able to speak English…a little bit English…a little bit Japanese. They can also guide tourists and from that they can earn a little income. Yeah, so this is satisfactory to the Cambodian people.
These are all good things I’m talking about. So the economic impact is not only impacting the main cities or main destinations but some other far off destinations. I mean, the independent tourists can arrive on their own so they bring money to those local people…a lot of advantages.
And, nowadays, the government is finding more ways to make money from tourism. We use the word like “fishing”.
Chai: I mean fishing money, not fishing fish. Yeah, its how to take money from the tourists’ pockets, you know? They (tourists) come here and they’re willing to spend but sometimes tourists don’t know how or where to spend their money.
LPT: Can you give me some examples?
Chai: So the government established a few ways on how they can make money from tourism, more than just selling entrance tickets to Angkor Wat. They’re also trying to help set up a way for less developed people to earn money from tourism.
So we created ‘One Village, One Product’.1 Communities make the souvenirs, like handicrafts and they sell them to locals and tourists. And of course, after they have made the products, the government arranges one place for them to bring and sell them.
LPT: So the government is having each village specialize in making something and selling them?
Chai: Yeah, specialize. And get the training to produce some product and they have to bring them to the market.
Chai: <points to a woodcraving>This is made from wood, right? If we don’t create something, the wood will be burned like fire wood…for nothing, right? So the government thought of working with private companies and NGOs and have them go and train local people how to make it nice – hand carved pencil, so on and so on and so on – and bring them to the market to sell. So nowadays, the Phnom Penh government has set up one market, we call it Night Market. Yeah, so small enterprises, individually owned enterprises, can also go and bring their products and sell them there.
Chai: Yeah, and in Siem Reap they also now have a night market. Local people selling handicrafts made from natural resources. You can bring them to the market and people can earn money.
LPT: What are some not so good things about tourism?
Chai: Not so good things…you know, that happens in every country, right?
Chai: Yeah, Cambodia is lax on the laws, for example. And authorities are sometimes missing their duty to control tourism. But I know that they…the truth is…they’re working hard with the NGOs and the international community to prevent, for example, drug smuggling. Because when tourists come, of course, there are good people and bad people, right?
Chai: And people who are using drugs we treat them as bad people, right? But their habit is maybe from Europe, from other country, and they(tourists) come and search on their own (for drugs). Cambodia has a drug, black market, for example; so they come here and search for it, looking for it. Some local people they also try to make money, you know, and don’t care about the law. They don’t care much about the social impacts, so some people are happy to be suppliers to those things. So it’s a bad thing for Cambodians.
And prostitution is also one of the bad things.2 Of course, it’s the tourists who come and demand it, right? So local people who have no means to make a living, they decide to go with tourists or to be a sex slave, you can also say that. It’s a bad thing for Cambodian society and a challenge for us.
LPT: How do you think we can make tourism better in Cambodia?
Chai: We – of course – we don’t want foreign tourists to spoil our culture. Every country has their own right to protect their own culture and society. Of course, we are welcoming of tourists because people are bringing money in and we welcome that. But we do not welcome people who come and destroy, spoil the local culture, local tradition, and life, you know. So governments should strengthen their duty.
LPT: Governments, as in not just the Cambodian government but everywhere?
Chai: Everywhere, right. Because like last year, we arrested a few foreigners and the local judge gave these men 15 years of jail time. But these people escaped the country and we sent summons to their embassies. And these other countries they also helped to put these criminals to jail. Yeah, work together.
1One Village One Product (OVOP) National Committee | http://ovopcambodia.com/
2End Child Prostitution, Abuses and Trafficking (ECPAT) Cambodia | http://www.ecpatcambodia.org