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Research Inquiry - Angkor

In: Business and Management

Submitted By pcmakuwira
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Cultural archaeological sites such as the temples of Angkor have contributed to the rise in mass tourism currently present in many south East Asian countries today. In recent years Cambodia has showcased itself to be a country that is highly rich in culture due to its people, its history and most importantly, its treasured archaeological monuments and sites, such as the Angkor Wat, a cultural site linked to the civil war of Khmer Rouge in the 1970’s. Sites like the Angkor Wat have increasingly become popular and well promoted tourist destinations for both domestic and international tourists in Cambodia. Visiting tourism sites associated with war and death has become an increasing phenomenon within the tourism world. Many debates in tourism research and literature have resulted. New literature seems to debate various touristic themes associated with sites like than Angkor Wat. This essay will draw on three of the major themes that have caused been presented within this tourism literature. Firstly, this essay will aim to analyse the Khmer Rouge’s civil war on tourism to Cambodia, and the views and perceptions of visiting sites associated with the regime. Secondly, this essay will introduce the topic of ‘dark tourism sites’, a tourism phenomenon which can be exampled with the Angkor Wat sites. Lastly, this essay will analyse two paradoxical, intertwining issues of heritage site conservation, and tourism development and promotion, and what literature views as being more important.

The Cambodian civil war of the Khmer Rouge which took place in the 1970’s has undoubtedly shaped the country’s history, as well as its future. Literature providing history on Cambodia outlines this extensively. Chheang (2008) outlined the decades of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge genocidal civil war as having mass long- term effects on the country, causing it into insurgencies and isolation which have now today been used as a vital tool in helping shape Cambodia’s culture and history in a more positive light. Leung et al. (2007) additionally state that the Khmer Rouge civil war has provided Cambodia with a rich cultural history that has helped contribute to the countries unique developments in the economic and tourism sectors -Leung et al. also provide further history into Cambodia’s past by stating that before the war, Cambodia was one of the fastest growing tourism destinations in South East Asia due to its unique cultures, customs, heritages and sites such as the Angkor Wat, which during the war became highly associated with the Khmer Empire. Fast forward more than 25 years and the Angkor Heritage sites have become one of Cambodia’s prime treasures within the tourism industry due to the growing number of tourists visiting these sites – despite their association with the Khmer Rouge Empire. Chheang (2009) observes that tourism has become on the most important economic industries, and that the Cambodian government has used the rise of tourism to the Angkor sites as a way to promote the countries cultural values and identity and recover from prolonged civil war and upheaval, Chheang also makes an important point by adding that Angkor has become a proud symbol of Cambodia’s identity since the civil war tarnished its reputation. Motivations and values of tourists play a major role into the understandings of the popularity of the Angkor Wat site despite its strong connections to the Khmer Rouge war. Biran et al.(2010) argue that motivation to visit sites (such as the Angkor Wat) which classify as ‘dark’ leads to a diversity of individual perspectives and understanding these motivations help in the defining and differentiating tourism subgroups. Wager (1995) suggests that because Angkor offers rich and unique cultural experiences, the development of tourism must, actually be based on Khmer heritage and history (rather than ignoring it).

Popularity in tourism to sites like the Angkor Wat which are associated with war, death and turmoil has recently become a popular and much debated topic within tourism literature. This cultural touristic phenomenon has become so popular, that it has now been given its own name among experts in this area – ‘dark tourism’. Stone (2006) provides a detailed view on this cultural touristic norm in the academic journal ‘A dark tourism spectrum: Towards a typology of death and macabre related tourist sites, attractions and exhibitions’ Stone describes ‘dark tourism’ as a pervasive feature within the contemporary tourism landscape that allows tourists to embark on a spiritual journey by visiting sites associated with death and disaster allowing them to gaze upon real and recreated death. In hindsight the issue of whether such type of tourism should be considered ethical or unethical has been the driving force to new research and countless debates- although, much literature and theories have been conceived to gain further understandings on why ‘ dark tourism’ should stand more on the lines of ethical, rather than unethical. Kang et al.(2012) conducted a study that researched the benefits of visiting a ‘dark’ tourist site associated with death and atrocities, they used a ‘benefit – based approach’ to conduct the study with the main focus being placed on participants visiting the site Juju Island in South Korea, results from the study indicated that individuals found many benefits to visiting a dark touristic site, with the most prominent benefits being personal /social fulfilments and a highly educative and spiritualistic experiences. In another similar study, conducted by Hughes, (2008) who researched motivations for visiting the dark tourist site of Tuol Seng Museum being another site in Cambodia also associated with the Khmer Rouge, asserted that in the history of travel, there have been long inspired debates on mortality and morals concerning various travel styles. Cohen (2010) adds further body of on the dark tourism concept by arguing that despite attempts to define it, (dark tourism) the authenticity of this concept remains quite elastic. Stone & Sharpley (2008) support this argument by stating that because literature remains eclectic and theoretically fragile, categorizing the experience of sites that are associated with death as ‘dark is unjustifiable.

Protecting world heritage locations and sites such as the Angkor Wat from tourism as opposed to developing and promoting tourism within these areas- especially that in developing countries which rely heavily on tourism as a form of profit has elected much debate among researchers and literature. Much question has been raised as to what is more important, heritage conservation or tourism development? Winter (2008) identified these two issues as intense and unstable paradoxical agendas which are highly synthesized with Cambodia’s need to grow and recover from war and turmoil. An earlier article by Winter provides further insight and knowledge to this issue –Winter (2004) states that the monumental landscapes of Angkor can be viewed as a form of ‘living heritage’ crucial in the key of articulating Cambodia’s cultural and national identities, Winter further adds, however, that understandings on cultural tourism remain limited and discourse and concludes that cultural tourism gains its power from a desire to promote and present Angkor sites as appropriate for international touristic consumptions. Earlier writings highlighting the effects and pressures that tourism has had on the Angkor Wat heritage site are highlighted by Mydans who was one of the first to analyse the two intertwining agendas. Mydans (2001 provided a contradictory analyses by stating that through the increased popularity of tourism to the heritage site of Angkor further developments in heritage conservation can be made, allowing for more security, control and protections to the heritage sites in both a physical and intangible light, Mydans however also highlighted the danger of what placing these sites as an ‘economic saviour’ may have, not only to the sites themselves, but also to the country as a whole – which could be faced with corruption and vulnerability when put into context with Cambodia’s symbol of nationhood. With continuing debates among researchers on the agendas of the importance of heritage conservation over tourism development only very few researchers have been able to sound off on this issue in literature. Wager (1995) (14) asserts that legal frameworks need to be developed to promote the sustainable development of the Angkor natural and cultural heritage site and it surroundings, therefore achieving a balance between archaeological protection and tourism. Correspondingly, Winter (2006)(15) argues that preservation policies should not only conserve heritage sites, but also transform the process of tourism consumption in a positive manner .

In conclusion, literature examining the ethicality of promoting sites such as the Angkor Wat, despite their association with war and death is plentiful. Research in this area has provided various themes and issues in a contextualised manner that has been greatly debated by researchers and tourism experts to date. Most literature regarding this topic seems to support the notion that although the Angkor sites are associated with atrocities and death as a result of Khmer Rouge civil war, tourism to these sites however, is able to help shape the cultural history and future of the country. More in depth literature to this matter has further added the need for more balance between heritage site conservation and tourism development / promotion to these sites as a way of promoting the sustainable development of Angkor. Despite various differentiating views within the themes of this topic, researchers have provided literature that shows the benefits and ‘ethicalness’ of travel to Angkor sites.

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