A Sustainable Journey in Angkor Wat

When my father and I found ourselves in Bangkok with a few days to spare, we simply could not pass up the opportunity to hop over to Cambodia to visit one of the most impressive UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the world’s largest religious monument, Angkor Wat.

Seeking a Sustainable and Authentic Angkor Wat Experience

The massive temples of Angkor Wat were left to the mercy of the forest for decades while the Cambodian government restructured and its people recovered from years of tragic genocide and conflict under the Khmer Rouge regime of the 70s. You can also play mobile casino no deposit at the UK’s leading themobilecasino.co.uk site. Since it became a World Heritage site in 1992 and international development funds have supported its restoration, Angkor Wat quickly flourished as a major tourism attraction in the region. Last year alone, it attracted an estimated 2 million tourists.

I asked myself, how do we experience the highlights of this amazing place without having the mass of visitors steal its authenticity. One sure bet is to find a sustainable tour operator. In Cambodia, we got in touch with Andrea Ross, who runs Journeys Within, an acclaimed operator in Southeast Asia that offers customized tours. Andrea’s reputation and expertise has been recognized internationally; for the past 5 years she has been listed in Wendy Perrin Travel Specialist List, published by Condé Nast Traveler.

Angkor Wat, meaning “Temple City” or “City of Temples” is the name given to the main temple complex, recognizable on the Cambodian flag. However, more than 200 temples, originally built between 800 and 1200 AD, are now restored and accessible to visitors. Living up to its namesake, the city of temples has more sites than you will likely get a chance to explore. If you stick to the guided group tours, you are surely going to miss the tomb-raider feeling of exploring unique corners of the hidden ruins within the forest. If you set out alone with a mere simple tourist map, you are sure to miss out on some of the cool features that guides can point out.

Thankfully, Journeys Within set us up with a great guide and driver that knew how to get us around the crowds and have unique experience exploring the temples.

We were happy to wake up early – 5am – every morning to catch the 12th century Hindu temples with the first rays of sun.

It was truly magical, climbing through ancient stone archways engulfed by the roots of massive trees.

By 1pm there was no point in fighting the heat of the sun or its affects on our pictures. We leave crowds at their peak and head for a retreat at the Journeys Within boutique hotel. Just outside of Siem Reap, this little oasis of 10 rooms was set up by Andrea and her husband Brandon in 2004.

We are greeted by Narla Phay, Journeys Within’s Cambodia Director, who invites us to have lunch by the pool. I order a brilliantly cold pilsner, also named Angkor, and savor a refreshing green papaya salad with mangos, while Narla tells me a little more about the Journeys Within Story.

Journeys Within Our Community (JWOC)

Narla explains that in 2005, Andrea and Brandon – founders of Journeys Within – established a local NGO called Journeys Within Our Community (JWOC) with the intention improving living conditions of local communities through health, education, economic, and emergency relief projects. Narla states he was among the first to receive a scholarship from JWOC to complete his university studies in tourism and that today is one of the directors of the company.

Intrigued by the project, we are invited to go next door and visit JWOC headquarters which houses several beautiful classrooms, a library, computer lap and offices. Nicola Ball, the JWOC managing director tells me, “Today we have over 70 scholarship recipients, like Narla, who donate 5 hours a week to support all our other JWOC programs that include: free extracurricular classes for over 700 students, microfinance loans, and projects to support access to clean water and emergency relief.” Narla adds, “JWOC is based on the premise of See a problem, Solve a Problem.”

We meet up with a group of students leaving their computing class, who are thrilled and honored to be part of JWOC.

Inspired by the JWOC’s contribution to the community, we head back to catch the sun set on the Angkor temples. We climb up Phnom Bakheng, a popular site to witness the last sunrays of the day. Our guide makes sure we get there early, to get a good view, given that now the authorities of the Angkor Archeological Park carefully regulate the number of visitors allowed on top of the temple at once. As we climb up the wooden steps placed to protect the original sandstone structure of the temple, I reflect on my footprint as a tourist.

It feels good to know I made the right travel choice!

Island Tourism and Sustainable Development: Interview with Richard Butler, Strathclyde University

Island Tourism – Sustainable Perspectives

Islands are the most vulnerable and fragile of tourism destinations and will experience even more pressure as the combined impacts of economic, social and environmental change accelerate in the future. In order to understand the process of island tourism development, response to change and challenges and their journey to sustainability, the 2011 CABI book “Island Tourism – Sustainable Perspectives” (Edited by J Carlsen, Professor of Sustainable Tourism, Curtin University of Technology, Australia, R W Butler, Professor of International Tourism, Strathclyde University, Glasgow, UK) provides insights and instruction on topics including social, cultural, environmental and economic aspects of island tourism. It contains essential information for policymakers, planners, researchers, managers and operators within the tourism industry. Learn more & order this book from CABI.

*Through TIES partnership with CABI, special discounts (20~% off) are available to TIES members on all online purchases of CABI publications. Please go to Member Center to access the discount codes, or contact membership@ecotourism.org for information on this and other TIES member benefits.

Interview with Professor Butler
TIES: What makes island destinations particularly vulnerable to environmental changes, as compared to other types of tourism destinations?

Prof. Butler: In one sense, they are no more vulnerable than any other area, but often because their physical environment is relatively or absolutely small, they may have little margin for absorbing significant impacts – environmental as well as social and economic (because of small populations and economies). Additionally, some isolated destinations such as the Galapagos may have developed unique ecosystems which would be highly vulnerable to insertions of exotic species, or which may have populations not used to human contact (actions, diseases etc). There is also the issue that while many tourists and others anticipate islands – particularly remote ones – to be “untouched,” any changes are perceived as problematic. As with any ecosystem that has a limited range of species present (high arctic, for example), a loss or significant change in any single element can have a drastic effect on all other elements in the ecosystem. Some islands fall into such a category, even those not in extreme latitudes.

TIES: How can visitors and local operators act to mitigate the impacts of economic, social and environmental changes on island destinations?

Prof. Butler: Some management actions are fairly obvious, such as those practiced in the Galapagos and some national parks elsewhere. For example, no food allowed with visitors, no fires or smoking, no litter left behind, restrictions on access (normally restricted to designated trails only), no physical contact with animals or plants, no collecting, no removal of items. Numbers are generally the major issue but almost no place is willing to limit capacities when it comes down to the crunch; instead, so called “capacity levels” are raised regularly in order to allow more visitors. Limits on numbers and the size of cruise boats at any one time (as Bermuda has done) is one step. Limits on accommodation development, airport capacity, and harbor capacity are somewhat easy options to make polices for.

However, the real question is whether policy will be implemented. Islands have great possibilities of limiting numbers, and controlling actions and movement if they wish to do so. Most seem to wish to do so but never do because of alternative viewpoints relating to more senior levels of government and the private sector. Bear in mind, however, that many small islands also seem to want as many tourists as they can get, so local control is not necessarily the answer. In the case of national parks, it is quite often a senior “absent” government that might institute such arrangements, sometimes in the face of local opposition to restrictions on tourist numbers.

TIES: What advice do you have for tourism stakeholders (planners, researchers, operators etc.) in island destinations for areas to focus on in regards to education and program development (ie: critical issues)?

Prof. Butler: Decide what is really important, both for local people and for outsiders. If priorities can be established, then these can be focused on, people can be informed of what is important and why (key species, key habitats, etc.) and how they may be safeguarded. People need to be informed of potential or actual threats and what results could be, as well as how threats might be neutralized. Information is key – both to local people and from them, and to and from all other stakeholders. Trust is important. Without it, evidence is likely to be disregarded in favor of traditional biases and beliefs. Some of these traditional beliefs might be true, but some of which could be terribly wrong and inappropriate.

For example, overfishing or overuse of resources which might have been acceptable in the context of a much reduced population with less frequent use technology half a century ago, but which are not longer suitable although there may be longstanding support for such actions. Care needs to be taken in putting forward new approaches so that they can gain local support. This requires a clear understanding of what is being proposed, why it is being proposed, and how it will work. All of this is education after a fashion.

Above all, stakeholders must sort out the really key issues, problems, and processes and concentrate on these without getting sidetracked by almost irrelevant but highly publicized media issues. For example, it is easy to get worked up about a hotel keeping its lights on on a beach at night where turtles are hatching and might get confused, although a more serious issue might be a harbor extension for local fishermen which could result in changed erosion patterns and total disappearance of the beach at issue.

TIES: Please share case studies and examples that you find particularly interesting and are reflective of the changes occurring in island tourism today.

Prof. Butler: Probably cruise tourism, as this is bringing large numbers of tourists to islands that had not previously experience such numbers ever before. In some cases this seems an easy option; few infrastructure facilities need to be provided, and boats can anchor off shore and transport visitors to the location. Pressures can be very high for very short periods of time with limited returns in terms of employment, expenditure, and lasting benefits, and every port of call is vulnerable because they have little or no role in decision making about whether the cruise ship should return another year or another voyage. This is not to say that cruise tourism is a bad thing, but I think it is symptomatic of a number of issues including vulnerability, lack of control, concentration of pressure and impacts, intensity of effects, minimal per capita expenditure, and a false impression of visitor numbers being maintained.

Although not specifically a tourist issue, increasing numbers of islands are becoming the focus of development (oil and gas, defense etc.). This has implications for tourism by increasing the visibility of islands through reference in the media, and by provision of infrastructure. For example, the Falkland Islands are much easier to visit now, following the post 1980 increased defense presence there. Similarly, the Shetland Islands have benefited enormously from oil infrastructure developments in terms of access and communication improvements, which have had a positive impact on tourism development.

Interview conducted by Lindsay Milich, July 2011

Prof Richard ButlerProfessor Richard Butler was educated at Nottingham University and the University of Glasgow (PhD Geography 1973), and spent thirty years at the University of Western Ontario in Canada as Professor and Chairman of the Department of Geography, and then the University of Surrey, where he was Professor of Tourism from 1997 to 2005. He is currently Emeritus Professor of International Tourism in the Strathclyde Business School, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. He has published a large number of journal articles, fourteen books on tourism and many chapters in other books. His fields of interest are the development process of tourist destinations the impacts of tourism, carrying capacity and sustainability, and tourism in remote areas and islands.

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Conservation Tourism, written by Professor Ralf Buckley and his colleagues at the International Centre for Ecotourism Research in Griffith University, Australia, features 100 international case studies from private marine reserves to bird watching lodges, and covers key topics including sources of capital and operational funding, corporate and organizational structure, marketing strategies, primary conservation outcomes and spin-off effects, links to public protected areas, future plans and global trends.

Volunteer Tourism: Interview with Dr. Stephen Wearing
Volunteer Tourism: Seeking Experiences that Make a Difference by Dr. Wearing, Senior Lecturer, University of Technology, and Dr Lyons, University of Newcastle, will be published by CABI in 2012. Concentrating on the experience of the volunteer tourist and the host community, this new edition builds on the view of volunteer tourism as a positive and sustainable form of tourism to examine a broader spectrum of behaviors and experiences.

Coastal Tourism: Interview with Dr. Andrew Jones
The symbiotic relationship between coastal tourism and amenable climates has become a paradox with climate change now threatening the very nature of tourism that it has so successfully encouraged in the past. The U.S. coastline along the Gulf of Mexico (i.e. Louisiana and Florida) represents a good example of this ongoing dynamic relationship. Similarly, many of the island archipelagos of South and South East Asia demonstrate vulnerabilities in this context.

Go Local Iceland: Grassroots Efforts to Promote Responsible Rural Tourism

Local Travel Movement in Iceland

In July 2010, I published an article on the Local Travel Movement website about how I saw tourism in Iceland at the time. I’ve always been particularly interested in regions off the beaten tourist track, which in the past would often be overlooked and overshadowed by the more commonly promoted highlights and ‘must-sees’ of Iceland.

In this context, I’ve been thinking about the different types of experiences tourists can gain while traveling, based on what kind of travel they choose. Over the years I’ve come to find that there are many people all over the world who are ready to travel mindfully and give themselves enough time to explore local culture and nature in a respectful manner. In light of this, I felt empowered and inspired to dedicate my time and efforts to promoting this type of travel in Iceland.

Initially, I had many questions about how to move forward with this. After a year of working on the Go Local Iceland initiative and exploring Icelandic tourism even further, I have arrived at some answers to these questions. In my quest for answers, I have also come up with some new questions and concerns.

Uniting Tourism Providers in Iceland

Tourism in Iceland is a young industry, and therefore is relatively uncoordinated. For example, in Eyjafjordur (the longest fjord in Iceland), there is not one institution that is responsible for promoting the fjord as a whole. There are seven municipalities included in the area of Eyjafjordur, although each municipality finds it more important to focus on their own designated area rather than on the fjord as a whole.

While Eyjafjordur represents great potential for local travel, it is not promoted as a destination in a cohesive manner and is every year losing thousands of potential visitors, who visit the touristic magnet of Grimsey Island, which is located in Eyjafjordur but don’t take the time to also explore the whole fjord with all of its beauty.

The Go Local Iceland initiative focuses on solid cooperation with local tourism providers who are interested in improving ethical standards of tourism. By uniting these people and organizations under one common platform we will be able to connect them directly to mindful travelers all over the world.

There are many rural destinations in Iceland that don’t get as much attention from mainstream tourists as do the typical Icelandic highlights. However, these relatively untouched places are dream destinations for the mindful traveler. It is important that such travelers find their way to these rural places. With some local assistance and guidance, you can find ways to reach any hidden fjord in any part of Iceland, whether you choose a destination in nature that is near or far from populated towns and settlements.

As of May 2011, I’ve carried out a total of 28 interviews with local tourism providers in Eyjafjordur. This research was a very important step for me, and has helped me to understand how local tourism providers see themselves and others, as well as what their visions for the future are. The results of the interviews varied quite a bit. However, a unifying concept was the desire to be advertised under one common image. These interviews, based on appreciative inquiry, contained some great material; the results of the study have been borrowed for use in further research within the tourism department of one of the universities here in Iceland.

Go Local Iceland continues to support local tourism providers, such as Iceland Hiking Tours, and our team continues to write about current offers in tourism in Eyjafjordur and the Troll Peninsula, regardless of municipal borders. You can view these Iceland Travel Tips here.

About the Author: Lenka Uhrova

Lenka was born in Slovakia, but has since spent many years in Iceland volunteering, working in the tourism industry, and forging sustainable tourism initiatives across the country. She has an educational background in tourism, although upon attaining her degree she was rather unmotivated to work in the tourism industry due to issues and controversies of the time. Something did not feel right. It was at this time that she discovered a deep passion for volunteering and community development, and a wish to work for an NGO. This passion for volunteering has been a constant over the years, and so as soon as she had the opportunity, she set off for a year-long volunteer project in Iceland. Having been working as a freelance trainer in non-formal education and facilitating various projects, she was lucky enough to return to Iceland a few years later, where she met the man of her life and settled in a small fishing village in North Iceland. At this point, she began to recognize both the potentials and threats of tourism in Iceland. She set to work conducting research on the subject, and volunteering in the field. Before long she started her own initiative, GO LOCAL ICELAND, with the aim of improving ethical standards in tourism.

ecoDestinations Scandinavia

From unique traditional foods to cutting-edge green technologies, to amazing natural wonders from across the region, Scandinavia offers a Smörgåsbord of eco-travel and adventure opportunities! Check out the ecoDestinations Scandinavia feature, and Explore various opportunities available for travelers and destinations from around the world, and support our efforts to protect and promote amazing travel experiences. Share your photos, stories and tips, and spread the word!

Ecotourism in Afghanistan

Tourism in Afghanistan? It’s not what you expect from this remote and beautiful, but troubled Central Asian nation. Most media reports on Afghanistan talk of war and bloodshed, insurgents and explosive devices. What they rarely report is that most of the northern half of the country is in fact quite peaceful and that reconstruction and development are moving forward. Play casino without depositing any of your own money! Almost every casino offers free spins or no deposit bonus casino for new players when opening account.

A trickle of adventurous tourists is already arriving in Afghanistan, reminding Afghans of the heady days of the 1960s and 1970s when their country was a popular destination for thousands of foreign visitors, and tourism was good business. Those who came then ranged from archaeologists and ethnographers to hippies and other Western youth looking for adventure in high Asia.

The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), one of the world’s largest private development agencies, works extensively in South and Central Asia. In two regions of Afghanistan (and in neighbouring Tajikistan), the Network is now supporting cautious plans to help revive the tourist industry as a way of creating jobs, and also to ensure that the inevitable tourism developments remain under the control of local people. Join our new UK mobile slot site today and get £5 free no deposit required! Play slots and casino games on your desktop, smart phone, tablet.

AKDN has ecotourism programmes in two areas – the remote and mysterious Wakhan Corridor, in the panhandle of northeastern Afghanistan, sandwiched between Pakistan, China and Tajikistan; and in the serenely beautiful Bamyan region of central Afghanistan, site of the giant Buddha statues destroyed by the Taleban.

The first concern is, of course, security. Both the Wakhan and Bamyan are generally safe and peaceful. Wakhan is so remote it was virtually untouched by the years of war. Bamyan, high in the Central Highlands, has always been somewhat removed from the mainstream of Afghan politics and has been quiet since the end of the Taleban regime in 2001. These ecotourism programmes are aimed at long-term development, helping local people to prepare for a tourism industry which is already reviving.

Afghanistan is not for the fainthearted traveller, but several thousand expatriates already live and work here. Most are accustomed to the country’s special circumstances and could provide a ready market for the sort of small-scale trekking and adventure tourism which both Wakhan and Bamyan can provide. Apart from foreign tourists, Bamyan is already a popular destination for Afghans who visit the area in large numbers in summer. The ecotourism programme is also aimed at this market, to attract more Afghan visitors and to help them better understand the region’s local culture and ecology.

Of the two regions, Bamyan is better known internationally because the valley was the site of two giant Buddha statues carved into the red cliffs, dating from the 6th century. These were famously destroyed in 2001 by the Taleban. The giant niches where the Buddhas were carved remain, as well as hundreds of caves dug into the cliffs by Buddhist monks in the 1st millennium AD.

Bamyan was then a key transit point through the Hindu Kush mountains for travellers on the Silk Road trade routes which linked China, Europe and India. The Bamyan valley is also rich in other archaeological and historical sites, all set in a sublime landscape of green fields, ochre cliffs, cave complexes and fantastic wind-eroded rock formations reminiscent of Cappadocia in Turkey.

Another well-known site in the Bamyan region is Band-e-Amir, a chain of seven turquoise lakes formed by natural dams which have just become the centrepiece of Afghanistan’s first national park, declared in May 2009. Also nearby is the Ajar Valley, a spectacular secluded valley which was once the private hunting preserve of Afghanistan’s last king.

The Bamyan Ecotourism Programme, funded by the government of New Zealand, and implemented by AKDN, got underway this year. A tourist information office has been established in Bamyan, and brochures, a website and other information materials are being prepared. Local guides are being trained in the history, geology and folklore of the area.

Training is also getting underway to help establish small private guesthouses, and training courses will upgrade the quality of services at local hotels and restaurants. At Band-e-Amir, campsites will be developed, and local people helped to set up horse trekking and other tourist services.

The programme will stress the preservation and development of local culture and the protection of the natural environment as assets which are essential for a profitable tourism industry. In remote, poor areas with few natural resources like Bamyan and Wakhan, such assets as natural beauty and a vibrant indigenous culture can be exploited to attract visitors and money to develop the local economy.

The Wakhan Corridor is very different from Bamyan, culturally, ethnically and geographically, but this great valley of the upper Amu Darya, or Oxus, river was also an important part of the Silk Road since it was one of the chief routes through the mountain ranges of Central Asia on the way to China. Marco Polo became the Wakhan’s most famous early tourist when he travelled along the valley in about 1270. The Wakhan was also a focus of the “Great Game” in the late 19th century when rival British and Russian explorers and spies came to find the source of the Oxus, or to win imperial influence in this little-known region.

The Wakhan Corridor and the Afghan Pamirs is an area tailor-made for the adventurous traveller keen to trek with a horse or a yak through unknown valleys and camp in yurts in the high summer pastures of the last Kyrgyz nomads. A network of small family-run guesthouses has been established along the length of the Wakhan valley which visitors can now use as a base for exploring the region, whether by vehicle, or (preferably) by horse or on foot. Information brochures are being prepared and a website will be ready soon, giving detailed information. Training courses here will also help to improve the standard of food and accommodation, which at present are very basic.

Wakhan also has some of the highest mountains of the Hindu Kush – Mt Noshaq, at 7492 metres, is Afghanistan’s highest peak. Wakhan was emerging as a new mountaineering destination in the 1960s and 70s, until the Soviet invasion of 1979. With the recent publication of a mountaineering guidebook for Wakhan, steps are now underway to develop the region’s mountaineering potential.

In a notable achievement, two local Afghan mountain guides, trained as part of the ecotourism programme, recently became the first Afghans ever to stand on top of their country’s highest mountain, when they climbed to the summit of Mt Noshaq on 19 July this year.

For visitors coming to Afghanistan from outside the country, some are uneasy about travelling through the capital, Kabul, where there have been well-publicised bombings. Fortunately, there is another option for getting to Wakhan – a recently opened border crossing into Afghanistan from the Gorno-Badakhshan region of neighbouring Tajikistan at Ishkashim, the gateway to the Wakhan. AKDN also supports an ecotourism programme in the Tajik Pamirs, so the intention is to enable adventurous tourists visiting Tajikistan to make a short excursion into Afghan Wakhan. Afghan visas can be easily obtained at the Afghan consulate in Khorog, the capital of Gorno-Badakhshan.

Tourists won’t be flocking to Afghanistan in the near future, but as the country seeks to build a more secure and prosperous future, many Afghans are eager to welcome foreign visitors back to their country. Now is the time to begin preparing.