The global pandemic has exposed the fragility of sectors such as travel and tourism. Our recent work with a group of forward-facing stakeholders, sought to understand the challenges and opportunities that conscious tourism can contribute to unlocking potential on their 230-hectare site in Cambodia.
Before 2020 around 25% of the Cambodian economy depended on tourism and travel (Oxford Economics), earning around US$4.92 billion through tourism last year alone (DW Reporting), making the sector’s recovery essential to the nation’s long-term growth and resilience. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, said that “the pandemic is a reminder of the intimate and delicate relationship between people and the planet” identifying the shift in health and environmental awareness that has led to new attitudes to travel and leisure and with-it new market opportunities.
In response to local lockdowns and travel restrictions, many people are now searching for considered experiences and retreats. The longing to escape crowded streets and the monotony of a more insular daily life has led to the selection of travel options that are closer, calmer and offer more connection to nature. Our research uncovered an opportunity in local/domestic tourism, sustainable luxury stays and hospitality, longer stays through second homes and wellness sabbaticals, and local community engagement and training. A focus on local and domestic tourism is supported by existing local demand in Cambodia, with 80.6% of tourists already coming from Asia and Pacific (32.6% from China) pre-Covid, and the global uptake in learning, wellness, and outdoor activities, shines a clear light on the programmatic opportunities that tourism should offer. Visitors are searching for like-minded connections and environments where they can feel nurtured and in-balance with their physical, emotional, spiritual, and sensory health and wellbeing, which, as is true in Cambodia with its unique Khmer culture and exceptional treasures like Angkor Wat, are able to be enlivened through authentic links to physical context and the local community.
The future is traveling slower and more mindfully, embracing regenerative travel, challenging over tourism and correcting under tourism, embracing nature, and putting purpose first.
In line with a localised approach, looking at sustainable inputs and processes in the operations of hotels, hospitality, and the wider tourist offering become increasingly important. Travellers will be looking for trips where every aspect of experience is optimally designed to encourage and support healthy activity and eating habits. Importantly, there will be developments created around integrating fresh, organic, sustainable food production tapping into a global culinary tourism market valued at US1.8 BN in 2027 (Yahoo Finance). This exposes a market for sustainable and open-sourced produce and food production all of which can diversify and strengthen local work and economy.
The challenge of creating a healthier and more resilient future presents an opportunity to give back to local communities; this is echoed by sustainable luxury travel entrepreneur and writer Juliette Kingsman who commented on Covid-directed shifts to luxury travel: “I think luxury will be health, for one, it will also be about more meaningful experiences. For me luxury is something that makes me feels good […] luxury travel is a holiday or a trip that makes me feel I’m giving back, because of course that’s more rewarding than anything”. In Cambodia, there is a demand for sustainable food and hospitality. There is an increasing need in Cambodia for new skills and jobs for the new working generation. Luxury tourism and lifestyle can open doors to local expertise, investment, and job opportunities, and at the same time, appeal to growing markets who are more socially and environmentally aware and thus more likely to be attracted and committed to opportunities to support environmental and community resilience when making choices about where to invest their time and money.
Heta’s response to our clients was informed by research that conveyed an increase in health and environmental consciousness that has transformed visitor attitudes towards travel and leisure. Our insights revealed opportunities throughout the masterplan to engage visitors and locals in the surrounding culture and community, environmental regeneration, health and wellness experiences and the ability to learn and teach artisanal crafts, local sustainability, caretaking, and hospitality training. These programmes respond to markets shifts as well as local need and in doing so has informed the zoning and architecture to deliver a proposition that facilitates conscious tourism that improves local opportunities and resilience.
Sustainability, climate awareness, solo travel, and health and wellness are set to be some of the biggest travel trends in 2022, according to The École Hôtelière de Lausanne, one of the world’s most renowned hospitality management schools.