Beyond Temples and Tuk-tuks: Responsible Tourism Training
By Sarah Brown
While leading learning adventures around Cambodia is a big part of what we do at PEPY Tours, we also spend lots of time thinking of ways we can promote responsible tourism practices, both among travelers and tourism professionals.
In the past we have given talks at conferences and produced informational resources, which have been available to people all over the world. This year, however, we decided it was time to turn our attention a little closer to home.
After a number of conversations with lovely tourism and hospitality folks in Siem Reap, we came to the conclusion that that there was a real local need for cross-cultural communication training for tourism professionals. Lots of people knew the basics of responsible tourism, but weren’t sure how to talk to travelers about controversial topics like child protection and cultural sensitivity.
Luckily, we knew just the person for the job, and together with the experienced instructor Claire Bennett we put together two different training courses. Claire comes from an extensive global development education background, and has worked with everyone from the UK Government to small grass-roots organizations in rural Nepal over the past 10+ years – quite a resume!
The first training course took place over three evenings, with a session each on responsible tourism, child protection, and cultural sensitivity. Delivered in both English and Khmer, this was designed as an introductory course for participants that have never attended this kind of training before, and included lots of group discussions and sharing of experiences. We learned of many insightful personal feelings and concerns about tourism and tourist interaction from the perspective of tuk-tuk drivers and temple guides who really appreciated the rare opportunity to speak their mind and openly share with others who faced similar challenges.
We also ran an intensive two-day training course specifically focused on cross-cultural communication. Along with Claire, we designed this course to help those working closely with travelers feel confident in discussing topics relating to responsible tourism and cultural sensitivity, so they can in turn ensure visitors to Cambodia enjoy the country in a conscientious and engaging way. The training included lots of practical tricks for clear and respectful communication with people from other cultures, as well as tips on how to deal with difficult topics and situations. At the end of the first day participants put together skits on different tourism issues, where they got to practice their newly-learned communication techniques and test out their acting abilities too!
We were pleasantly surprised by the strength of the response to these trainings from the tourism community, with a total of over 60 people attending these trainings. Some participants traveled from as far away as Phnom Penh, Kratie, and Stung Treng to join the fun, and staff from Sokha, Soria Moria, Journeys Within, Sam Vesna, Osmose, CRDT, and Haven all attended, as well as lots of independent guides, tuk-tuk drivers, and trip leaders. There were also a lot more people who were unable to make it to this session but wanted to come to any future training we offered on this topic.
All in all, we thought the trainings were a success with an average participant satisfaction score of 3.4 out of 4; but what this experience has really shown us is just how hungry the tourism community is for better tourism practices and how much opportunity there is in helping responsible tourism practices grow.