A Model Community Based Ecotourism Project

                        Description of the Site
Tmatboey is a small village found in the Preah Vihear province of Cambodia. It is located within the Kulen Promtep Wildlife sanctuary (KPWS) which is a well known protected area in Cambodia. The vegetation of the area is the r dipterocarp forest, a unique combination of forest and wetland, which has made the area a haven for different species of water birds including the critically endangered and rare White shoulder and the Giant Ibis. According to the 2005 population data from the Cambodian department of planning, Tmatboey is made up of about 203 families with an approximate number of about 881 people living in the village. The area covers about 25, 780 hectares of land and the main occupation of the local people is paddy rice farming. Some are also engaged in fishing and the collection of forest products.

The Tmatboey Ibis ecotourism project was initiated in 2004, by a joint collaboration between the government of Cambodia, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the local community. The project aims to conserve the globally threatened water birds listed on the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), especially the white shoulder ibis and the giant ibis which are currently found in no other place in the world except in Tmatboey. Hence, the Ibises were used as a “flagship” to establish a community based ecotourism project at Tmatboey that directly links revenue received to long term species conservation.  Due to the unique and important nature of this attraction, there are a lot of partnerships and agreements between the various stakeholders. All site based tourism services such as accommodation, transportation, tour guiding, food and others are organized by the local community. Training programs, consultation, advice on the project and guidance on the project was provided by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and other local Non – Governmental Organizations (NGOs). The Government also provided legal backing and occasionally, funds for the development of the project.

Land-use within the project is guided by a land use plan that was developed through a two-year participatory process with the community. It specifically sets out which areas can be used for agriculture, residential land and the sustainable fines for violations of national law and local regulations.

The Tmatboey Ibis ecotourism project is one of the best and successful ecotourism projects in Asia. This is because, it is a home to two critically endangered and rare species of birds in the world and also for the fact that it is purely community based and has provided a substantial amount of benefits to the small remote Tmatboey community, which means that it is built firmly on the principles of ecotourism. The project has attracted a lot of avid bird watchers who in thier quest to view the rare species of birds, travel to the area.

Management and funding
As stated earlier, the site is managed through the corporation between the various stakeholders of the ecotourism industry. The local community of Tmatboey is responsible for the provision of tourism services such as accommodation, transportation, food and beverage, tour guiding and other services that may be needed by the tourists. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Sam Veasna Center for Wildlife Conservation (SVC) are responsible for providing advice and guidance on the project while the government is responsible for enforcing regulations and rules.

With regards to the funding, the Tmatboey Ibis project is generously funded by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Edith McBean, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) through the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Danish International Cooperation Agency (Danida), the UK Department for International Development (DfID), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Netherlands and the Jeniam Foundation.

  • ·         A guest house which consist of 2- bedroom en-suite bungalows and a large dinning room and kitchen. The complex is being extended to a total of 4-ensuite.
The guest house can accommodate 16 tourists at a time. The guest house is built with local materials such as wood and straw.
  • ·         Toilet and bathing facilities
  • ·         Power is provided by a solar photoelectric array which runs lights, fans and other appliances.
  • ·         The main source of transportation is ox-cart.
  • ·         Solar water heaters for providing hot water.

The project has achieved a number of successes with respect to tourism. These include;
  •    The project has provided employment opportunities for the local people. That is, over 90 individuals (10% of village inhabitants) were involved in providing tourism services, of which 33 individuals were employed on a part-time permanent basis as guides, cooks, guesthouse managers, etc.
  •   The project has increase community pride. Villagers are clearly proud that foreign tourists are visiting and staying in their community and understand the benefits they have received. They are particularly keen on the visitors being able to see ‘their’ birds (from a survey conducted by SVC in 2007).
  • The population of nesting White-shouldered Ibis has increased from a single pair in 2002 to the current 4-6 pairs. Populations of other large water birds, such as Giant Ibises, Adjutants and Sarus Cranes have stabilized or are increasing.
  • The project has increase environmental awareness among the local people. This is because there have been major decreases in hunting and the wild bird trade. Villagers now clearly understand that key species are of tourism value and should be protected.
  •    The project has encouraged community participation. This is because; the community was massively involved in every aspect of the project development. For instance, they provide tourism services such as tour guiding, food services, transportation services and accommodation.
  •     The project brought about a community development fund. This fund is being supported by tourists who visit the community. According to statistics, tourists contribute more than 3500 dollars to the fund. This money has been used to fund community development projects, including agricultural support, road improvements and the construction of fish ponds and new wells.
  •  A continual flow of skilled birdwatchers has yielded valuable ecological data on both ibis species, which has proved crucial for management.
  •    Bookings are increasing by 36%. This is because the site has proved very popular and is now promoted by a number of specialist bird watching travel agencies in the UK, USA, Europe and Australia.
Even though the project has achieved a lot, it is also facing some challenges. These include the following;
1.      There is a general transportation problem in Cambodia which is reflecting on the transportation issues in Tmatboey. This is because, larger portion of the road network found in Cambodia is not tarred and the road leading to Tmatboey is not an exception. This makes it difficult for vehicles to reach the area.
2.      There is a problem of language barrier. Currently all groups are accompanied
by an English-speaking tourist guide who is paid up to $30 per day. If the villagers can learn sufficient English, they could command much greater daily rates for guiding and it would remove the need for external guides to come to the village.
3.      The guest house at the site can house only sixteen (16) tourists at a time. In addition, many tourists left as soon as they had seen both ibis species, even if they had booked to stay for longer.
4.       A significant problem for some tourists was the local custom of holding large (and very noisy) wedding parties in the village during the dry season, precisely at the peak of tourism season.
5.      Tmatboey can be inaccessible in August and September after heavy rains.

The Way Forward
The Tmatboey Ibis project is generally successful from the perspective of ecotourism development and sustainable development point of view. This is because, the start, continuation and the current state of the project has made the project a model one that is worthy of emulation by any ecotourism project aspiring to meet all the philosophies and principles of ecotourism. However, it would suffice to note the following points which can further add to the sustainability of the project.

Even though there is a comprehensive land use plan and laws backing the plan, the management of the project should consider a mechanism that will provide low or moderate incentive packages (an amount of money) per year to each family that abides by the land use plan. This will encourage total abidance to the land use plan by the people. This could be funded both from the income generated from tourism and also through the sales made from selling agricultural products in the village.
Another important point to note is the carrying capacity limits of the project. Currently, the project is taking between 200 tourists per year which is very good for a sensitive place like Tmatboey. However, the quest for too much profit should not overshadow the activities of the management to admit more than necessary tourists since this could cause carrying capacity problems and the eventual degradation of the area.  
1.      Case Study Tmatboey Community-based Ecotourism Project, Cambodia. Tom Clements, Ashish John, Karen Nielsen, Chea Vicheka, Ear Sokha and Meas Piseth, Ministry of Environment, Cambodia and WCS Cambodia Program August 2008)

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