After noticing Cambodia’s tourism sites became plagued with plastic waste during Covid-19 and with foreign visitors remaining low compared with neighboring countries, tour operator Jacques Guichandut decided to take action.
The co-founder of tour operator All Dreams Cambodia Co. Ltd hails from France and has called the Kingdom home for almost 27 years. Harboring a passion for Cambodia, the 59-year-old has always believed Cambodia has huge potential as a tourism destination with friendly people.
“I see this opportunity and have been here for 27 years, so we see a lot of moving hubs. I have always believed that Cambodia has huge potential on the part of tourism. So, I took the opportunity to stay,” he said.
All Dreams Cambodia was founded in 2013 by four owners and is dedicated to individual, group, luxury, and MICE (meetings, incentive, conference and events) travel. From large scope projects to unique tailor-made programs, it focuses only on Cambodia.
The tour operator focuses on three main activities: Inbound (tour & transportation services in Cambodia for clients from abroad), Outbound (local market, tours and services in Cambodia and abroad for the high-end local market) and Ubiquest, which focuses on team-building activities and Urban Tales in Cambodia for international markets, the local market and expats in Cambodia.
Guichandut said there are some challenges for his travel agency as its main source market is European tourists rather than Asians. During the Covid-19 crisis, he had time to reflect and noted most tourists visiting Cambodia tend to tag it on after or before traveling to neighboring countries. Often, they do not spend more than one week in the country.
“The major challenge today is that Cambodia is not being seen as one destination, but as an extension of a holiday to Vietnam or Thailand. They don’t think they can spend two weeks in Cambodia. So, there is certainty that people will not come here to stay for two to three weeks,” he said.
He added, “For example, 95 percent of American clients always go to Siem Reap for two or three nights, and this is a bit challenging because we have to change the destiny of the destination.”
Since March 17, when all Covid-19 restrictions were removed for fully vaccinated visitors and tourist visas were reinstated, Cambodia became one of the safest destinations with the easiest access in Southeast Asia.
Guichandut said despite Cambodia being the most vaccination country in Asia with no restrictions for foreign tourists, he noticed there was still a lower number of tourists visiting Cambodia compared to Thailand.
Even though he faced major challenges during Covid-19, his travel agency still has plans to work on sustainability for tourism in Cambodia. And he has laid out a vision to be one of the top Cambodian DMCs (Destination Management Company) promoting a social, ethical, environmental and sustainable tourism, and supporting the local communities.
“With this in mind, we strive to fulfill the Cambodia Dreams of our guests and visitors to the Sacred Land, focusing exclusively on Cambodia as a single destination, and the many natural and cultural splendors our country has to offer,” he said.
And Cambodia Dreams has a mission to respect the environment and nature, Cambodian people, culture, and local communities, while striving to reduce its carbon footprint.
After finding that some tourism sites are full of plastic waste, Jacques worked together with other people and organizations that shared the same mission to tackle the plastic issue in the country.
“We are the only company that can calculate the impact of carbon pollution on tourists and the plastic pollution issue has always been there. When we have a comment from clients, most of the time it is this one [problem] because we say that when we go to the province, it is not so clean,” Jacques said.
In July, All Dreams Cambodia collaborated with Tos Yerng to launch plastic clean-up initiative #ONESTEPNOPLASTIC to combat the plastic pollution in Cambodia and promote the Kingdom as a sustainable and attractive tourism destination.
Tos Yerng is a musical group formed by Monika Virak and Honging Thorng, two artists who composed and performed a dynamic song promoting the 5Rs: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Remind.
Together they decided to launch the movement #ONESTEPNOPLASTIC to federate as many people as possible, including tourism professionals, to contribute to a cleaner environment and to make Cambodia an even more welcoming destination for visitors.
The #ONESTEPNOPLASTIC campaign took six months of planning, with a clean-up operation in a different city each time. It was carried out in Kep on 31 July and Siem Reap on 27 August. Next, it will take place in Kratie on 17 September, Phnom Penh on 22 October, Battambang on 15 November, and will end on 8 December with another clean up in the capital, at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, under RUPP Free Plastics event, where Tos Yerng will launch their music video called Re-Five.
On July 31 in Kep, 55 participants - representatives of partner organizations, volunteers and media professionals - collected 1,200 kg of waste. In Siem Reap, the clean-up campaign saw the level of engagement rise, with over 300 participants, including 70 tourism and hospitality businesses, environmental NGOs, social enterprises and even tourists. A total of 1,500 kg of waste was collected.
#ONESTEPNOPLASTIC partners with Chip Mong Eco-cycle and Eco-Bricks to process and recycle waste collected in each city. #ONESTEPNOPLASTIC is also a carbon neutral campaign. In its environmental commitment, All Dreams Cambodia calculates the carbon footprint of each event in order to offset it by purchasing carbon credits or supporting ecological projects in collaboration with the Ministry of the Environment.
In addition, All Dreams Cambodia provides free drinking water to all participants during each clean-up operation. This filtered water is purchased from TEUK SAAT 1001, an association to which the agency also donates $2 per participant in order to provide free drinking water for one year to a child in an elementary school.
“Our key message from tourism partners who want to participate in this campaign in order to solve the plastic issue in Cambodia. We also expect to have this campaign start to be more known overseas that will give a good image of what Cambodia is willing to do to preserve our destinations to make it cleaner,” Guichandut said.
Guichandut encourages people, especially tourism industry related workers, to slowly try to change plastic consumption by minimizing the number of plastics in restaurants and hotels.
“Nature is so nice, unfortunately humans are developing more activities and it is really the time for us and the future generation to try to change this plastic pollution issue. Because otherwise one day everyone will disappear, and nature will take over everything like climate change with increasing or freezing consequences. We have to be much more conscious of our personal habits to live,” he said as his last key message.