The unprecedented collapse of international tourism resulting from COVID-19 has had enormously negative consequences in Cambodia and around the world in terms of job losses, business closures, and loss of crucial revenue. However, in the past two months millions of Cambodians took advantage of domestic tourism during two major holidays. Still, tourism options require much-needed development, especially in regards to the nascent eco-tourism sector. In Cambodia’s northwest, four organisations are working together to show how eco-tourism can be a force for sustainable community development, while helping to promote wildlife conservation and rural livelihoods.

In a July statement, the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimated that global figures have seen a drop of “300 million tourists and US$300 billion lost in international tourism receipts.” For Cambodia, a country that normally welcomes millions of international tourists per year and generates billions in revenue from international tourism, the situation is distressing to say the least.

Nonetheless, domestic tourism in Cambodia has recently seen increased attention. With major national holidays in August and September, millions of local tourists, Cambodians and expatriates alike, spread across the country. Having no confirmed cases of community transmission of COVID-19, and coupled with the difficulty of international travel during the ongoing shutdown, many people decided to take advantage of the smaller crowds and enjoy the tourism options available within Cambodia.

While this local boon is great news for many struggling businesses in Cambodia, it also highlights the necessity for the tourism sector to continue developing to maintain competitiveness with neighboring countries, and to achieve regional and global standards. This is especially true in regards to the emerging opportunity for eco-tourism within Cambodia, and the global obligation to create more sustainable business practices that preserve the natural environment for future generations.

In the past month, the World Bank issued a report outlining the recommendations for the development of eco-tourism in Cambodia. Of particular note, the report recognized how eco-tourism can contribute to the conservation and management of the country’s protected areas.

Meanwhile, in the northeast province of Preah Vihear, an innovative partnership between civil society and private business is showing just how this can be done. The partnership demonstrates how community-based eco-tourism can be a force for sustainable rural development, while protecting the environment, wildlife, and ecosystem services, and creating meaningful livelihood opportunities for local communities.

Sam Veasna Conservation Tours Ltd. (SVC)

Sam Veasna Conservation Tours, Ltd. (SVC) is a tour operator specializing in birding and nature-based adventures in Cambodia since 2006. SVC has guided over 10,000 people, and also facilitates ground operations for some of the largest and most respected international birding companies. SVC’s appeal lies in the active community partnerships that ensure birders see some of the rarest birds in the world, including the national bird of Cambodia, the critically-endangered Giant Ibis. In return for securing viewing opportunities of rare species, tourists pay a Conservation Contribution that funds critical infrastructure in the communities such as wells, primary schools and road maintenance.

Moreover, SVC recruits and trains local bird guides and equips community residents with training on standard tourism services including housekeeping and cooking hygiene for village homestays.

[Left] Excellency Neth Pheaktra, Secretary of State and Spokesman of the Ministry of Environment (MoE) led the ceremony where SVC handed over $8,510 of Conservation Contributions to Tmat Boey Ecotourism Community. [Right] SVC Food Hygiene Training at Okoki site.

An essential prerequisite for eco-tourism is protecting the integrity of the natural environment which necessitates the prohibition or sustainable management of extractive activities like logging and hunting wildlife. Unfortunately, with few alternatives, logging and poaching can be financially lucrative for local people who require meaningful employment opportunities to thrive.

Ibis Rice Conservation Company (IRCC) and Sansom Mlup Prey (SMP)

To address this issue is the mandate of the Ibis Rice Conservation Company Ltd. (IRCC) the local Cambodian sustainable agriculture organisation Sansom Mlup Prey (SMP). Together, they work to provide a robust opportunity for rural households to earn living incomes, while discontinuing destructive activities like logging and poaching. IRCC provides a guaranteed buyer, marketing expertise, and premium international and domestic market access for rice produced according to agreed conservation principles and organic standards.


Concurrently, SMP provides technical agronomic support to farmers, which includes training on wildlife-friendly and organic standards and practices. At the center of this arrangement are conservation agreements with individual farmers that stipulate they will not engage in land clearing, logging, or wildlife poaching, nor use harmful agrochemicals on their fields.

IRCC then purchases the rice produced according to these standards at premium prices; farmers are paid an average 30 to 40% more than standard market prices for their harvest.

Wildlife Conservation Society Cambodia (WCS)

Rounding out this partnership is the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), an international conservation organization operating in Cambodia since 1999. WCS focuses on supporting and training law enforcement in the protected area, and coordinates scientific research, community engagement, and coordination with relevant government officials from the Ministry of Environment, the Provincial Department of Environment, and other local authorities.

As the leading technical advisor on all aspects of the conservation work, WCS has been at the forefront of this innovative community-based conservation, eco-tourism and livelihoods approach taking place in Preah Vihear province.

Join SVC, IBIS Rice, SMP and WCS by making a positive impact today

While the international tourism slowdown is likely to continue, domestic tourists in Cambodia have the opportunity to take part and contribute to this unique community-based eco-tourism experience, and see this effective partnership in action.

Tourism options include booking a private tour on the three-day Tmat Boey Giant Ibis Experience or scheduled tours to one of the most remote tourist destinations in Cambodia, Prey Veng Village.

Visitors can witness two frontline examples of providing profitable alternative livelihoods to conserve the Giant Ibis and other critically-endangered species, while supporting sustainable rural development in some of Cambodia’s most disadvantaged communities.

Even those unable to travel to Cambodia at the current time can still make a lasting difference, and may consider donating to SVC on:

With the global COVID-19 crisis and consequent economic pressures, there is no better time to show your support for wildlife and sustainable community development.

Nathaniel Maddix

Nathaniel Maddix

Development & Communications Coordinator with Sansom Mlup Prey Organization (SMP)