Photo – Angkor Wat Temple (Tourists)
Angkor Wat Tourists Troubles :
Angkor has seen the number of tourists to the site increase tenfold over the last decade to over 2 million this year. This is in stark contrast to a report by UNESCO in 1995, which estimated that a maximum capacity of annual visitors should not exceed 700,000. The same report forewarned that the mismanagement of tourists “could lead to uncontrolled development which would quickly degrade the archaeological monuments, the natural resources and the cultural fabric of the Cambodian Angkor heritage”.
Today, about 5,000 visitors pass through the site each day, swarming over the sacred ancient monuments where they can touch and climb. According to leading Angkorian expert Professor Charles Higham, ‘The human tidal wave that sweeps daily over Angkor has a serious impact on visitor experience. One is pestered constantly to buy postcards and elbowed by boorish tourists’. The majority of people stay for two to three days, taking in the most famous monument: Angkor Wat, the Bayon, Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, and Phnom Bakheng. Concerns have been raised that the unrestricted access of visitors, along with pollution from the increased traffic of tourist buses, is hastening the rapid deterioration of monuments and their intricate bas-reliefs. Jeff Morgan, Executive Director at the Global Heritage Fund, believes that ‘with lax regulations on controlling the climbing, vandalism, and graffiti on monuments, the situation is getting serious. Overcrowding and lack of enforcement is the issue’.
The rising numbers of people at Angkor show no sign of abating – entrance ticket sales are up by 25% from last year, amounting to nearly $50 million, and the Cambodian Minister of Tourism Thong Khon projects a staggering 6 million annual visitors by 2020.
Despite potential damage to the ancient monuments from excessive overcrowding at Angkor, the government has given the tourism industry a priority status for fast track development. Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world, where one third of the population lives below the poverty line on less than $1 per day, and the majority of the workforce is employed in basic subsistence farming. The revenue generated from tourism and heritage is the bedrock of the developing economy, accounting for $1.75bn a year and 15% of the country’s GDP. Angkor provides the ideal platform to create local and national investment, a network of jobs and the promotion of local arts and crafts. Despite this opportunity, there have been persistent allegations of high-level corruption, with critics claiming that money raised from tourism has been flowing into private pockets and rather than being reinvested appropriately in the maintenance and protection of the site or local communities. UNESCO has warned about this problem in the past: What is crucial is that the monuments of Angkor should not be reduced to the status of an expendable commercial resource and thus be deprived of the funds need to secure their proper conservation and to facilitate their presentation to visitors in an appealing and educational way. This would not only damage the cultural heritage of the country, but also destroy the most important resource on which the Cambodian tourism industry is built.
To prevent Angkor becoming a hit-and-run holiday destination for tourists, the Cambodian government is attempting to lure visitors to other regions of the country with a range of impressive temple sites, eco-adventure holidays, and newly developed beach resorts. Heritage experts agree that a more balanced distribution of tourists to other regions in Cambodia would help stimulate the economy of deprived communities whilst protecting vulnerable and isolated archaeological sites. Dougald O’Reilly, director of Heritage Watch, suggests: “as more people come to Angkor, others will be looking for that unique experience of exploring a temple without the throngs of people around them and Cambodia has many temples to offer such an experience. There is much to gain but also much to lose so a delicate balance need be struck”.
More photos of Angkor Wat Temple here.
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