CRDTours: Multi-stakeholder working in support of community-based tourism
In 2011 the Cambodian Rural Development Team (CRDT) were facing the end of funding for their tourism development activities. Since 2008 CRDT had worked at building the capacity to deliver community-based tours on two Mekong islands in Kratie and Stung Treng, all in support of conservation. CRDT maintained a key role in bringing groups to the islands and this was threatened by the loss of funding.
At this time the Mekong Discovery Trail project was promoting tourism in Kratie and Stung Treng, both to tourists and the private sector to encourage investment. A need for a private tour operator in Kratie had been identified but not fulfilled.
With a long-term volunteer at CRDT in Kratie and staff in their country office in Phnom Penh, VSO facilitated an approach that addressed the needs of CRDT and the Mekong Discovery Trail. This was the creation of a tour company under CRDT’s ownership. Cambodian Rural Development Tours (CRDTours) would strengthen the link between the islands and the tourism market while providing employment for CRDT’s tourism staff.
The long-term volunteer supported the development of this new company, advising on business issues including: human resourcing; product development; financial planning and analysis. However, this change from a donor-funded model to a commercial endeavour required careful management of important stakeholders and gaining support from the Mekong Discovery Trail was crucial. This tripartite initiative involved the Ministry of Tourism, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation and the development NGO, SNV.
A series of VSO-facilitated meetings resulted in approval for the project from the Ministry of Tourism and CRDT’s Enterprise Development & Marketing Manager, Sut Samedy, commented that, “VSO’s support in networking with the Mekong Discovery Trail was vital in establishing CRDTours”.
Further NGO support came from WWF advising on conservation issues and, through the Asian Institute of Technology’s Wetlands Alliance programme, Sustainable Smiles supported product development on the islands to increase tourists’ engagement with the communities. Sok Sim, a community leader, recognises the importance of this, “Cultural exchange is a benefit of tourism, appreciating each other’s culture and traditions”.
Links with private sector players were also initiated and strengthened, focused on marketing and developing new business with larger tour operators. The long-term VSO volunteer supported this, resulting in increased revenues from tours (up 66% from $16,689 in 2010 to $27,727 in the year to July 2012). Relationships with suppliers were also developed and, with the island communities, CRDTours’ Khoun Tola observed that, “they have learned to better cooperate with the private sector and the tours have improved as a result”.
CRDTours has provided jobs and the impact is felt at the community level where revenues are up 59% from the previous strongest year (from $10,664 in 2010 to $16,978 in the year to July 2012). Those involved report improvements in their diet and increased participation of children in school as a result of this additional income. 10% of this revenue is given to the community development fund and, according to Sok Sim, “This has improved local infrastructure through new bridges and roads”. These impacts within the community have been made possible through a commercial approach to CRDT’s tourism activities, working in partnership with multiple stakeholders, and support from VSO.