How Tieng Sophea Uses Google Products to Attract Foreign Visitors

Tieng Sophea, one of 47 Google Local Guides Connect users in Cambodia, uses her engaging and informative content to attract foreign visitors to her country. She was recently invited to attend a Google event in Japan.
Tieng Sophea, a Google Local Guide (Kiripost/Rov Hongseng)
Tieng Sophea, a Google Local Guide (Kiripost/Rov Hongseng)

Tieng Sophea is passionate about promoting tourism in Cambodia. She shares photos, videos and articles about tourist places on products such as Google Local Guide Connect and Google Maps in English, which has a global reach.

Tieng Sophea said,

“To attract foreign visitors, it is important to write English content because it can reach a wider audience.” 

Even though the content is not in English, it can still reach foreign audience because Google's auto translation feature allows users to communicate with each other even if they do not speak the same language.

Google Local Guides Connect, Local Connect, is one of Google Products, such as Google Maps. It is a platform for Local Guides to share their experience, ask and answer questions, connect with other Local Guides, and provide feedback to Google on new features and ideas.

Local Guides Connect is popular among English speakers, therefore the product is used to attract foreign visitors, she said. This can be done by contributing to Google Maps and Local Connect by adding new places, writing reviews and correcting information.

How it started

Tieng Sophea’s journey in promoting local communities through digital platforms like Facebook and Google Local Guide Connect started when she posted five photos of the beautiful Phnom Anlung Svay waterfall on Facebook. The post had over 500 shares within a week. 

She said, “I was surprised to receive a lot of engagement over my post.” This showed her that her posts could create a positive impact on the community through the attraction of more local tourists.

In the past two years, Tieng Sophea has been sharing photos, videos, and articles about tourist places in Cambodia. Her contribution has been recognised by Google. As a result, she was made the only Google Local Guide Moderator in Cambodia. 

She recently received enquiries from foreign tourists who are interested in visiting the places that she had featured in her content. Just like how she attracted local tourists, the positive impact of her posts was evident with foreign tourists.

She received comments from foreigners who told her that they did not know there were many activities they could participate in when visiting Cambodia, such as camping, taking dramatic silhouette photos of Angkor Wat with the sun in the background and visiting beautiful islands. 

Some commenters also told her that they will visit Cambodia when the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic dissipates.

Blue dots are places where Sophea has added missing places and uploaded photos on Google Maps. (Kiripost/Rov Hongseng)
Blue dots are places where Sophea has added missing places and uploaded photos on Google Maps. (Kiripost/Rov Hongseng)

Creating content on Google Local Guides

Besides writing reviews on Google's Connect Forum, she also uses Google Map to add missing places to the map. For example, she added Phnom Anlung Svay waterfall to Google Maps, which helps users to locate and learn about the waterfall before they visit. 

She believes that it is important to write about places that people have not talked about much, such as Koh Songsa island. This way, she can be the first to take good pictures of the place to include in her article.

“I am concerned that there are only 47 Google Local Guides in Cambodia, and only  a few of them are active on Google Local Guide Connect as the platform is popular among foreigners,” Tieng Sophea said.

She hopes that more Cambodians would use the platform to share their knowledge and experience with the world, in order to bring more people to Cambodia.

She also writes about topics that she has some knowledge about, such as dark tourism.

Her contribution to the platform has been so outstanding that after she became the only Connect Moderator in Cambodia, she was invited to attend a Google event in Japan. 

In addition, she has seven articles that have been selected as top viewed and reposted on the platform. 

She has suggested working with other Local Connect users in Cambodia to address the misuse of places in Google Maps. For example, they have corrected the location of Koh Tonsay island and Preah Vihear temple.

Tieng Sophea believes that young Cambodians, especially those who have a good command of English, can play an important role in promoting Cambodian sights by using the Google Local Guide platform.

She also feels that relevant stakeholders, including social media users, bloggers, influencers, industry experts and content creators, should help to promote Cambodia.

In Cambodia, Tieng Sophea’s photos uploaded in Google Maps have been viewed over 14 million times. 

Challenges in her work

One of the challenges in promoting tourism in Cambodia is the lack of English language skills. “It is important for content creators to be able to write in English so that their content can reach a wider audience, especially foreign tourists,” she said.

She explained that Cambodia is a tourism country, therefore it is vital to promote the sector to attract foreign tourists. “Cambodia has both major tourist destinations and young content creators. However, due to a language barrier, their content does not reach foreign tourists. Most of their content is in Khmer language.”

Writing English blogs is good for foreign visitors because the content can reach English speakers.

Another challenge is the lack of expertise. For instance, to write reviews about tourist attractions, one needs to know the history of the place and to write in a way where the content is engaging and informative, she said.

How can the government help

The government should establish an agency similar to Thailand by providing financial support to Local Guide users and promoting Cambodia tourism.

The lack of financial support impedes content production and the aspiration to go on, she said, adding that she knows influencers who have worked to promote Cambodia but were not assisted by the government. 

“This includes me. I too use my pocket money to produce content to promote Cambodia tourism. I spend money on traveling to places, shooting videos, taking photos and writing content.”

Other factors, such as good infrastructure and preventing the overcharging of foreign tourists are important to attract and ensure tourists return to Cambodia.

As such, the government can play an important role by assisting content creators. Tieng Sophea said she has experience working with the government on a project to set up a website to promote tourism in Siem Reap. 

However, the project was not successful because the government did not have the resources to maintain the website and respond to queries from tourists.

“If there is a model where the government provides support to content creators, like financial assistance to cover the costs of travel and content production, it would be great.

“The government can also build roads, train local people to become professionals in tourism and provide financial support to local communities to protect their forests and cultural heritage,” she said.