When Tourism Becomes a Threat

As Globalization grows with optimistic numbers in every human sector – from technologies to communication and from economic [including the crisis] to the disappearance of geographical borders -, tourism is becoming also more and more global. It is easier in our time to plan the next holidays at the other side of the planet, as it was planning the same some decades ago to the other site of the county. Plane tickets’ cost have gone down as much as high technologies and the frontiers of our tiny planet came to be at the walking distance. In 2014 only 1.1 billion persons traveled around the world, according to the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, with an increase of 4.5% over the previous year and it is estimated another jump of 4% in 2015. We are talking of numbers during an economic crisis period, so numbers will be much bigger in ‘better times’.

The main scenarios of the current international tourism, however, are not the traditional ones of Europe and USA as in the past. Hardly in the past, Western people thought to walk the Chinese Walls; or to visit India was something so far and even dangerous due to the big expenses of travels and assumptions about developing nations.

But now global tourism is about to look for the most exotic things to see and feel. Although still important, the value to have a picture at the Eiffel Tower is not more a wow for your friends – because most of them have it already on their social networks. The real adventure of our modern travelers is to look for strain peoples, amazing places, odd traditions and even dangerous sites. Thousands of websites invite you to escape to the most far-far-away-kingdoms in remote islands, jungles, mountains and continents that were associated in the past with eccentric adventurers – and almost all of our modern international travelers want to be eccentric – just visit the Most Traveled People of the World website to prove it (see mosttraveledpeople.com), with its challenging question ‘Are you a serious traveler?

Cambodia is one of those places in the favorite lists of global travelers. The numbers of visitors is always increasing since 2004. In 1993 there were 118,183 visitors to the Southeast Asian nation, staying rather around the Angkorian temples. In 2004 the Ministry of Tourism registered 1,055,202 foreign tourists and last year the number was four times higher, 4,502,775 (Ministry of Tourism of Cambodia, 2015).

Definitively, the growing of international tourism brings a lot benefits for impoverished nations like Cambodia, but it poses a lot of challenges too. You can include as evident risks the exposure of poor children looking dollars from those dark-glasses foreigners taking photos to everything and you have the problem of child abuse, human traffic, drug usage, prostitution and, of course, environment damage, including to the archaeological one.

We cannot blame, of course, the international travelers, most of them with good intentions, but travelers can get a full conscious of how to behave in exotic places in order to protect what is fragile, from humans to animals and monuments. Making a parody of mosttraveledpeople.com  and its question, we can ask too: Are you a safe traveler? It is a very responsible decision to be.

The excitement to attract more and more foreigners to our country, especially in a country with serious problems of institutionalization, ethical practices and education, creates the golden fever to build hotels, casinos, resorts, restaurants and strain attractions “for foreigners” anywhere. When the French archaeologists discovered the ruins of Angkor Wat in 1860, it was covered by the tropical humid jungle. Today, the jungle has been reduced, but not to facilitate the studies of archaeologists or for a better admiration of the ancient treasures, but to create unnecessary resorts in areas that would be unthinkable in other countries with similar ancient legacies.

Although the Angkorian Archaeological Park with its thousands of temples from the 9th to 15 centuries has been given to an organization known as Apsara Authority – a body of private and official investment -, the temples are manipulated as just attractions, ignoring many measures that would protect their durability. It has to see also with walking sites and the allowance to vehicles along internal roads or parks.

If we are going to have 2 million visitors per year only to Angkor Wat, we are going to need a stricter ruling based in science and technology and not in hungry-money policy makers that think the temples as their property. Just imagine 2 million walkers taking selfies on every angle of the millennial stones, letting their graffiti of “Jenny was here” and throwing plastics and bottles, without mentioning the locals with their motorbikes and tuk-tuks parking near the ancient pathways.

If the international travelers do not assume a real cultural behavior, their passing by places like Angkor or many others, can be compared as a stampede. At the other side we have the country and its leaders that should measure their ambitions and give the real value of the treasures let by their own ancestors. What our descendants would visit if we destroy what our ancestors let us?



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About Albeiro Rodas

Albeiro Rodas (in Cambodia Sky Ly Samnang), is a MA in Digital Communication, independent journalist and a Salesian of Don Bosco from Amalfi, Colombia, based in Cambodia since 1999. He is the creator of the Don Bosco schools of journalism in Sihanoukville and Kep with young people from poor communities and the founder of the Don Bosco Kep Children Fund. Medal for Social Commitment UPB (2010); among the 100 more upstanding Colombians abroad (Marca Colombia, 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X39xwdGtVXI) and among the 12 Colombians that are making this a better world 2013 (http://www.colombia.co/en/culture/colombians-that-are-making-this-a-better-world.html).

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