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18 November 2013

Helpful holidays in Cambodia 

Cambodia’s Angkor Wat draws millions of tourists eager to soak up the ancient temple’s splendor. Exclusive hotels, spas and restaurants have sprung up to serve well-heeled travelers, but something unexpected has happened as well.

Hoteliers and entrepreneurs are joining forces with spa owners, artisans and designers to channel some of their patrons’ generosity into helping needy Cambodians.

Sometimes called “voluntourism,” this mix of travel and philanthropy takes many forms in Cambodia, especially in the city of Siem Reap near the celebrated Angkor site.

Hotel guests can assist a local drama troupe whose members were injured by landmines, vestiges of the Southeast Asian nation’s war-torn past. Hotels often provide detailed guidance on where help is needed.

The owner of a local boutique hotel, the Shinta Mani Club, created a system to train local people to work in the hospitality industry. That led to the establishment of a foundation that funds micro-lending and a mobile medical clinic, financed by a portion of guest billings.

A local spa owner, meanwhile, has taught blind locals the art of massage; now their skills match those of seasoned professionals.

Voluntourism has broad appeal and immense potential. Tourists can help preserve wildlife in Africa, join research missions in the Amazon rainforest and help protect some of the planet’s most precious resources.

While many vacationers simply want a rest, others can combine love of travel with the opportunity to improve people’s lives or the natural environment.