Artisans d’Angkor can be considered as a model of sustainable development for tourism as it not only helps and keep Cambodian traditions of handicraft but also fosters creativity spirit among young craftsmen and women, educate locals and provide jobs, particularly to rural people. Benedict Ravel, Manager Sales and Marketing, talks about Artisans d’Angkor mission and achievements in exclusivity to ASEAN.Travel.
How was born Artisans d’Angkor?
Benedict Ravel- It is an educational project which goes back to 1992 when France ‘Compagnons du Devoir’ [ A thousand-year old association of craftsmen providing apprenticeship and teaching old handicraft technics]. From start it has been designed as an educational program to transfer the technician skills of centuries-old craft tradition to the new generation following years of turmoil and society destruction in Cambodia. And we are proud of the achievements.
What represents Artisans d’Angkor today?
B.R.- We are now a Cambodian semi-public social company that continues to provide job opportunities to young rural people near their home village. We are endorsed by the Ministry of tourism as we are part of the sustainable tourist experience that foreign visitors can get when coming to Cambodia. We also received the endorsement of the Ministry of Commerce and Handicraft due to our social function. Above all, we are proud of being the largest employer in Siem Reap, where we are based. We currently make 1,100 people working, including 800 craftsmen and women. As part of our social responsability, we are pleased that all of our managers are now Cambodian.
How does Artisans d’Angkor work with tourism authorities?
B.R.- First our crafts cover all of Cambodia cultural aspects, from silk weaving to sculpture, from wood carving to painting, from jewels to lacquer ware. For example, we have our own Silk farm which produces all of our products that we then use in our workshops. Both the workshops and the Silk Farm are open to visitors, free of charge. We train guides in various languages for tours.
We also provide paid tours with the possibility to get initiated to Cambodian crafts. We want to show tourists an authentic Cambodian culture through our tours and our products. What people see at our workshops is actually not “mock-up products” for tourists. The manufactured goods will then be sold in our shops…
How many visitors do you have to your workshop? Are Chinese visitors also coming to your workshops tours and shops?
B.R.- We receive some 400,000 visitors per year. Chinese are a growing market in terms of number. We started to experience a rise in Chinese visitors approximately a year and a half ago. Chinese visitors are up by 50% compared to the previous year. However, spending per capita remains so far extremely low. While Americans spend on average US$140, Europeans US$80, Chinese spend only US$40!
How is your line of products adapting to trends?
B.R.- We are representing authentic craft and of course we must stick to the base of our products. Regarding statues or sculptures, we continue to sell traditional classical Khmer art. However, we adapt our range of products to a more contemporary taste in home design or in the colours of our scarfs and silk products. We have been working with a French stylist over the last two years to modernize and create a line of clothing which is more matching with current trends. We already renewed female clothing and we now work on our men collection. It will be on display during 2018.
How about your price policy?
B.R.- It is true that we are more expensive than most other handicraft shops. But all represent dozens of hours of work if not hundred for some! And we price our items to provide a good income for our craftsmen as well as for the use of high quality fabrics and materials.
Where can visitors see your products?
B.R.- We are present at Cambodia airports with large selling spaces. We have also a large shop in the city centre of Phnom Penh and have now an outlet at the Belmont Residence d’Angkor hotel. We also have a comprehensive online shop on the web.