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Sustainable Tourism Now Possible in Sihanoukville

Sihanoukville, Cambodia — Sihanoukville is one of the favorite tourist spots in Cambodia, next to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. It has been identified by the Royal Government of Cambodia as one of the strategic development areas in the country in order to improve the national economy.

The increasing number of tourists in recent years, however, is creating several socioeconomic and environmental problems. Poorly planned built-up areas are degrading environmental quality, particularly beach areas, leading to complaints among tourists.

In response to these concerns, a beach zoning plan was prepared for Occheauteal Beach in 2006 as part of the Integrated Coastal Management Programme of the Provinces supported by PEMSEA. As part of the zoning plan, stall owners who were previously occupying the easement and beach areas were relocated. A buffer zone of 10 meters from the highest water mark was maintained to prevent potential problems of erosion and to maintain the quality of the beach. Enforcement of the zoning also meant removing various illegal structures along the beach.

"It is a long process of negotiation with stall owners. It's difficult for us to just remove them since it is their only source of income," expressed Mr. Seng Kha of the Department of Tourism.

While most of the 40 stall owners were skeptical at being relocated, the comprehensive plan in Occheauteal Beach included measures to ensure that they would be able to resume their operations in a much better environment. The Provincial Government was able to leverage public and private sector investments of about one million US$ to improve facilities along the beach. The improvements in beach landscaping and facilities are expected to address environmental concerns, such as waste management and pollution, sustain the source of income among the tourist service providers and attract more tourists.

Scaling Up Efforts

Occheauteal Beach is only one of seven major beaches in the province. If effective management of these resources is to be promoted, the good practices that have been implemented in Occheauteal will need to be "replicated" in other beaches. At the same time, a continuous process of monitoring and enforcement will be needed across tourism sites. One of the efforts undertaken to strengthen management capacity was the recent Training Course on Tourism Zone Development and Management, which was held in Sihanoukville from 15-18 November 2010.

Participated in by over 40 representatives from key agencies in Sihanoukville as well as the three neighboring coastal provinces (i.e., Koh Kong, Kampot and Kep provinces), the training workshop reviewed zoning principles in tourism zones and provided guidance on technical aspects of implementation and enforcement mechanisms. As part of a hands-on exercise, participants were tasked with developing "zoning" plans for islands and other beaches in the area and providing management recommendations.

"While Preah Sihanouk has strong potential for coastal tourism development, we still have limited management capacity to improve infrastructures, and set up standards for tourism facilities," expressed Governor Sbong Sarath. The zoning training, he said, is a must for local implementers and stakeholders to understand the importance of proper siting, necessary environmental infrastructures, as well as effective enforcement.

He called on all stakeholders and concerned agencies—both from the public and private sectors—to enforce and implement the agreed zoning for tourism to achieve sustainable development.