Angkor Lights – Good tourism, bad conservation, or both?

The Independent’s article rounds up the recent furore over the installation of lights at Angkor. The move may serve to boost falling tourism numbers, but does nothing to address what heritage specialists have been saying for years – that the effects of increased traffic to Angkor is ultimately bad for business.

Reflections of Angkor
photo credit: skinnydiver

The dark side of Angkor’s night visits
The Independent, 6 June 2009

In an effort to boost tourism at the site, officials at Angkor say visiting hours could be extended and lighting provided to give visitors a different experience. “We want tourists to see all views of the temple, even in the dark places where they may have not have seen some of the sculptures and statues,” said an official, Bun Narith.

The plan is just one proposal being considered by officials who are trying to counter the first slump in visitors to Angkor, which for a decade has experienced a boom. Recent figures show a 14 per cent drop in visitors to the town of Siem Reap, where Angkor is located, compared with last year. The authorities have also called on hotel owners to reduce their prices.

Foreign tourism is hugely important to Cambodia, reportedly providing up to 75 per cent of its foreign currency earnings. Around 50 per cent of all tourists to the country end up visiting the temple complex, six hours’ drive north of the capital Phnom Penh.

But the issue of tourist numbers is complex. Conservationists warn that boosting the number of people visiting Angkor, without doing more to control them when they are at the site, could have a detrimental effect.


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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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