Sihanoukville, Cambodia — From a sleepy, laid back coastal municipality a few years back, Sihanoukville is fast catching up with Siem Reap as one of Cambodia's top tourist destinations, attracting more local and international tourists with its relaxing white beaches and seafood restaurants. The steady influx of tourists is also brought in by the opening of the Kangkeng Airport, enhancing mobility among tourists and making it possible for them to hop from one destination to another.
For 2007 alone, the Municipality has recorded 379,688 visitors, many of whom were bound to visit Occheauteal Beach at least once during their stay in Sihanoukville. While the growing number of tourists indicates a potential increase in income, many locals were concerned that the income may be cancelled out by the negative environmental impact that comes with the unmitigated tourist activities. In a study conducted by the local government, about 59.4 percent of the respondents felt that waste management in Occheauteal and poor water quality are major environmental concerns that come with the increasing number of tourists.Local stakeholders believe that if Occheauteal Beach is to remain a sustainable source of revenue for the Municipality, the infrastructure and the general environment of the beach needed to be improved. It was with this consideration that the tourism development and management plan was formulated and adopted by stakeholders in 2005. While the "face lift" requires a daunting investment for this community, estimated to be of the order of half-a-million dollars, several catalytic activities are being undertaken by the local government, stall owners and local contractors to gradually change things on the beach. For instance, the groups are organizing themselves and working together to improve the landscape along the beach by putting up kab or walkways along the built-up area. Gardens alongside the walkways will be set up as part of the beautification process, to improve vegetation and prevent soil erosion. As an indication of a stronger support towards sustainable beach management, stall owners have also started putting in more waste bins near their stalls to ensure proper waste storage and disposal. Billboards and banners have also been set up in strategic locations to remind beach goers of responsible tourism practices. Thus, in spite of lack of financial resources, the Sihanoukville site is living proof that community ownership and commitment can achieve desired results. On 7 April 2008, about 350 students, volunteers and government officials were mobilized for a beach cleanup and information drive to remind all beach users of their responsibility to protect and manage this shared natural resource, which breathes life to Sihanoukville's socio-economy.