Angkor in Cambodia is one of the most important – and most visited – archaeological sites in Southeast Asia. To build further the skills of those working in the Cambodian temple complex, IFT organised a 5-day professional training programme tailor-made for a group of 20 tour guides from Angkor.
A total of 4 officials from the APSARA National Authority – the Cambodian management authority responsible for the protection of Angkor – also attended the course, held in June in Macao.
This was the first cooperation project between IFT and the Cambodian authorities under the framework of a memorandum of understanding signed in May between the Macao SAR Government and the Ministry of Tourism of the Kingdom of Cambodia. The agreement envisions the promotion of sustainable tourism development via the training of professionals in that field, and via partnerships in tourism industry education.
The June programme – offered by IFT in collaboration with the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) – focused on capacity building regarding tour guides for international visitors at Angkor. The training programme included lectures, visits to the Historic Centre of Macao and workshops.
During their stay in Macao, the course participants were received by Macao’s Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, Dr. Alexis Tam Chon Weng.
Programme lecturers comprised: IFT Invited Assistant Professor Dr. Sharif Shams Imon, who is also the Coordinator for the Institute’s Heritage Management Bachelor Degree Programme; IFT Visiting Professor Dr. John Ap; IFT Assistant Professor Dr. Cora Wong; and Dr. Ong Chi Ee, from the National University of Singapore.
Stretching over some 400 square kilometres – including forested areas – the Angkor archaeological site contains the remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire, dating from the 9th to the 15th century. They include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations. Angkor was inscribed on the World Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1992.
Dr. Imon says the course aimed to improve the quality of visitor experience at Angkor. “Although the focus was Angkor, the principles discussed are equally applicable to any heritage site.”
He adds: “We focused on guiding [work]; but guiding alone cannot achieve that objective [of improving the quality of visitor experience]. So, we talked about site presentation, visitor facilities, infrastructure, etcetera.”
The course “was really amazing”, says Ms. Channa Uy, one of the tour guides that attended the programme. “It taught us how to improve our skills not only as tour guides, but also as heritage interpreters, and how to present our site.”
Chanvirak Sarm, one of the APSARA officials who joined the programme, agrees. “Heritage protection and the growth of tourism are both very important for Cambodia,” he says.
“The lecturers in this programme had a strong background in heritage protection,” Mr Sarm states. “And we didn’t learn only in the classroom: we also had the opportunity to explore in situ what the Macao SAR Government has done so far in this area.”
Course lecturer Dr. Ong says the Cambodian group was “very interested and curious about a whole range of topics, from interpretation to conservation”.
The former IFT faculty member says the Institute can benefit from “working as a focal point and a regional hub for training in tourism- and heritage-related issues” in order further to enhance its international profile in this field. “It is a niche IFT should continue to pursue,” he adds.