Ten years ago, UNESCO warned that Angkor Wat, Cambodia’s major world tourism attraction, could be under threat if a careful management of the beautiful ruins of the ancient city was not implemented.
At the start of the 2000s, some 300,000 tourists were coming on average to admire the grand monuments of the site. A decade later and UNESCO’s prediction for the Angkor Archaelogical Park is turning true. Over two million tourists –both domestic and international-come every year threatening the fragile structures. The sandstone monuments of Angkor were however not conceived to support large crowds of visitors. Despite UNESCO watching carefully the evolution of the site, tourism development is increasingly taking its toll on the monuments.
Pollution is today the worst threat to Angkor Archaeological Park. Air pollution is generated by the massive influx of vehicles –from busses, taxis to local tuk tuk- but also by electric generators in town used by hotels. All together they accelerate the decay of the temples by blackening the stones and provokating acid rain. Not to mention large –and often ageing-busses, which generate vibrations and consequently fragilize the temple structures, according to the Apsara Authority, which manages the park.
UNESCO and Apsara have been working for many years on various solutions to limit pollution– it will indeed be difficult to totally reduce the impact of tourism activities on the archeological sites-. So far with little success. They have been talks about banning busses to enter the park or reducing the number of tuk-tuks but lobbies and private interests have so far managed to block any decision. 70 to 80 per cent of the foreign visitors to the temples are booked with tour operators and they generally use their own vans and buses.
Electric vehicles to ferry visitors had been envision back to 2008 but tuk tuk protests at that time derailed the project. Now, a French company BluE-Mobility is looking to make its entrance into the market. The electric buggy-style vehicle can carry three persons and has an autonomy of 300 km per charge. It has been developed by Bollore Group, a French conglomerate.
BluE-Mobility just signed a MoU with Apsara for the use of the electric cars.
The service will be priced at US$80 a day, meaning that it will be first used only by VIP or high spending travellers. For Vincent Calzaroni, CEO of BluE-Mobility, the expensive service will be used by tourists who will appreciate the use of an eco-friendly mode of transport in a bid to help preserving Angkor archeological park as well as protecting the environment.
The electric cars will not replace however the current fleet of polluting vehicles seen at the temples. BluE-Mobility sounds more like a drop in the bucket…