Award winning responsible travel company Soksabike has become one of Battambang’s most renowned sustainable tourism experiences. Since opening in 2010 the social enterprise has been committed to community development through tourism, offering guests the chance to cycle through Battambang’s agrarian countryside, visiting local families and businesses and gaining insight into the true Cambodian lifestyle.
For those who are unfamiliar with Battambang, the city is located in the northwestern region of Cambodia, about three hours drive from Siem Reap. It is famous for its French architecture, giant lotuses and an infamous rickety Bamboo train (yes it’s a train made of Bamboo) that provides a one-of-a-kind experience to people travelling to the region. Aside from those popular attractions, the city is sprouting a sustainable tourism movement, a common evolution witnessed throughout other parts of Cambodia.
Soksabike’s commitment to sustainable tourism sees the social enterprise invest 41% of earnings back into local community projects and staff training schemes. They have always been committed to employing local staff and training them in the tourism industry, an industry that now accounts for 10% of global gross domestic product (GDP).
The training schemes and employment opportunities provide the Soksabike staff not only with access to meaningful, opportunistic work but also the confidence and leadership skills to thrive in the social enterprise world. The organisation also provides scholarships to staff for their university studies or foreign language studies, and through these opportunities many of the guides are now leading their own local community projects.
“One of the proudest achievements we have seen in the company is the increase in confidence of our guides. When Mony started his training he was shy and reserved, but as time passed his increasing confidence saw him becoming a team leader and he is now driving major changes here at Soksabike” – Maureen, Senior Manager of Business Development and Strategy Soksabike
The tours are run by local staff and are set up to provide income to members of the local community. There are three tours to choose from, each providing an immersive experience and the opportunity to interact with locals, learn Cambodian traditions and even get the chance to learn a bit of the Khmer (Cambodian) language. Soksabike works closely with local families and individuals who participate in the tours, each family involved earns a part of the income generated from the tours themselves, providing sustainable income and the opportunity to interact with members of the international community.
“The families feel confident and comfortable interacting with foreigners. They know there is value in being themselves and demonstrating their livelihood. The rice paper family we work with uses the money from Soksabike to put their two kids through school.” – Mony, Soksabike Guide
However, the Soksabike impact spreads far beyond providing sustainable income to the local community. Their commitment to environmentally sustainable practices sees the social enterprise provide guests with reusable water bottles in order to reduce plastic waste. Plus they generally run smaller group tours (max 6 people) so as to minimise the environmental impact and not to disturb the communities they visit.
In 2015 Soksabike was a winner of Wild Asia’s Responsible Tourism Award, an award that recognises responsible tourism initiatives through South East Asia. Initiatives like this are becoming increasingly recognised by the wider community however, there is still a way to go to push responsible tourism into the mainstream market.
“The challenge is getting people to realise the difference between a company that is going to do something right and ethical with the money you spend and a company that is not. Transparency is key” – Maureen, Senior Manager of Business Development and Strategy Soksabike
With many organisations in Cambodia looking to use tourism as a force for good, it’s important for us as travellers to realise the potential we have and choose to shift our choices down a more ethical path. When done correctly, as Soksabike exhibits, tourism can really be a driving force for sustainable development in many of the world’s developing regions.
To find out more about Soksabike and the work they do, or to book one of their tours click here.