How to communicate community-based ecotourism : interview with Sam Veasna Centre


The Sam Veasna Centre for Wildlife Conservation is a wildlife conservation organization running ecotourism birding and wildlife safaris to Cambodia’s most important, remote and vulnerable habitats to see the countries incredible diversity of often critically endangered species. They practice conservation through community based ecotourism, and have exclusive access to key conservation sites and protected areas where they work closely with local and indigenous communities to create sustainable livelihoods and protect wildlife.

For this interview, the second in our series talking with all the finalists for this year’s World Responsible Tourism Awards, Anula Galewska speaks with Alison Curry, Sales and Marketing Advisor at Sam Veasna Centre for Wildlife Conservation.

Anula: How do you communicate your efforts towards sustainable tourism to your guests?

Alison Curry The Sam Veasna Centre for Wildlife Conservation
Alison Curry

Alison: Our communications – in marketing terms – are very much a work in progress at the moment. As an organisation that’s grown up from conservation, working an effective on the ground solution and growing organically, many of the things that we do just because of who we are have not been effectively communicated.

This is changing now, and really that’s a key part of my role. We’ve our new website coming, growing social media presence where we communicate about our efforts, email and growing our relationships with partners in the right space. With an organisation like SVC, we have so many opportunities for amazing stories – from the communities and the conservation teams in the field, and slowly we are starting to seed these out into the world!

“The art for us at the moment is taking our existing audience along with us gently… educating and informing without bombarding!”

However, all our guides are very highly trained, and part of their role is to make our guests understand what lies behind their access to these incredible sites and wildlife – the conservation work, the communities and how they benefit, how the model works – and they are all deeply committed, so they ensure that raising and discussing the importance of sustainable tourism and our efforts is part of the experience.

sam-veasna-guide-trainingAnula: What’s your biggest challenge in communicating sustainability?

Alison: Our historic clients are birdwatchers – and whilst many are truly passionate about issues of conservation and sustainability, others just want to ‘tick off the list’! As we grow our market into a broader wildlife and nature lover, the art for us at the moment is taking our existing audience along with us gently… educating and informing without bombarding!

As we grow our own sustainability practices – particularly around waste/plastics use both by SVC and in the communities, it becomes increasingly important to ensure that our clients and potential clients understand this. Of course we do target as a priority those who are already committed to sustainable travel as many wildlife travellers and birders are, and they want to know and learn – but it’s opening up this thinking to others that’s the challenge!

Anula: How do you engage local community in what you do?

Alison: As we practice conservation through community-based ecotourism, engaging the local community is rather at the heart of it all! Nothing can happen on the ground without the community being engaged! We consult extensively with the communities about potential development, changes and opportunities, everything has to go through layers of community consultation and approval – it’s a very long process.

We train the communities in tourism service provision: guiding skills – which bring earned income; plus work with them to develop the skills to manage the funds from the Conservation Contribution – which is a community fund to improve livelihoods for the whole community – to build wells, schools, bring in mobile healthcare and the like. In the low season, we run an extensive Environmental Education Programme around the areas where we work, teaching the youth about sustainability, conservation and the environment.


Anula: How do you engage your suppliers in what you do?

Alison: Well, we don’t fully yet, but it’s starting now as our new marketing starts to roll out and key issues are clarified. We increasingly make choices about suppliers based on their efforts towards sustainability – use of plastics, or social impact for example and have recently switched from a key supplier because of these issues. Now as we look for a new one, we are much more clear about our expectations from them in this area and are working with our ideal new supplier to help them to make some changes to be in the right place to provide what we need.

Anula: What is unique or innovative about your marketing and communication approach? 

Alison: To be honest, at the moment it is just getting the basics in place… SVC have done virtually no marketing in modern terms in the past and are a very very nascent organisation in marketing terms which I’m having to build pretty much from the ground up. Birders are a tight community so word of mouth within the birding forums has allowed us to grow to where we are now.

Sadly all the national destination marketing is focused on Temples and Tragedy – and we want to change that.

But as the world changes, and we want to grow further and open up new markets so that we can do more good on the ground,that is changing. I’ve been brought in to do this but as I say it’s a work in progress. Watch this space really, once all the basics are in place, then we can start to get clever about innovating in our communications approaches and this is liable to start next year. Coming into SVC, and to be honest to Cambodia, there is a huge skills and knowledge gap about marketing in the modern world – and a big part of my work has been creating a marketing ready organisation, building capacity within the team, making organisational, process and structural changes within SVC before any real marketing efforts can take place.


Anula: What have you learned about marketing so far, what works and what doesn’t?

Alison: While we get our new website up, build our social presence and presence on forums, get our email and content marketing up and running, my focus has been on our trade relationships, growing and building those with the best responsible tourism operators locally and internationally with the birding and wildlife tour operators. We do this through events such as British Bird Fair, and through direct approach. Forming personal relationships both in our trade and consumer marketing is key and I’m also doing a lot of networking, guest blogging etc. I think we need to watch this space for next year as realistically I’d expect to see the growth of our marketing efforts take effect for 2017!


Anula: What motivated you to apply for World Responsible Tourism Awards?

sam-veasna-wildlifeAlison: We believe in what we do, and can prove the success of the model of community based ecotourism for conservation. WRTA is one way for us to really get this onto the world stage, grow our profile within a community of people (trade and consumers) who are already committed to the principles of responsible tourism. WRTA is really the Oscars of responsible travel – and the interest we can potentially gain from this is exciting… not just for us to grow, but to share the model in the hope that others can be inspired by this around the world.

We also want the world to know that there is amazing wildlife here, and that it is possible to have an incredibly authentic experience in nature and wildlife whilst contributing both to community and conservation. Without a doubt raising issues around conservation in Cambodia and the importance of this country as a biodiversity hotspot globally are also reasons.

Anula: What expectations do you have if you win?

Alison: Ha, a lot of work to take the best opportunity we can from this it! I’d love to gain as much press coverage as we can – again, not just to drive direct sales through an increased profile, but also to share the message and the model of conservation through community based ecotourism. Another big one for us is just promoting Cambodia as an incredible wildlife destination. Sadly all the national destination marketing is focused on Temples and Tragedy – and we want to change that.

sam-veasna-logoTo find out more about Sam Veasna Centre for Wildlife Conservation, visit their website and follow them on Facebook.

world-responsible-tourism-awards-2016-logoThis article is the second in our interview series with the World Responsible Tourism Awards 2016 finalists, with whom we explore the best practices in marketing and sustainable tourism communications. The rest will be published between now and the opening of World Travel Market on November 7th.

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