By Emily Martin
Responsible Tourism Cambodia – ABOUTAsia
The “Responsible Tourism Cambodia” blog series is concentrating on high-quality businesses who are dedicated to their social responsibility in Cambodia. All of these businesses focus on responsible tourism and are supporters of Phare and our social mission.
ABOUTAsia Travel is an incredible business with its heart and soul deeply connected to responsible tourism. You just have to learn the backstory to realise that this business was developed on the base of sustainability and giving back to the community rather than the other way around.
ABOUTAsia has two parts to it – there’s the luxury travel company and then the ABOUTAsia Schools programme which is funded by the travel company and supports over 100 schools in the surrounding areas of Siem Reap.
So how did they start?
A man called Andy Booth began it all. He was brought up on a farm in very rural England and then went to Oxford University. He worked in investment banking for 15 years in London and during his time there did very well… he was very successful in investment banking and so was able to retire in his mid-thirties and embarked on a trip around the world with his family. He was kind of looking for something to enable him the opportunity to give back, to assist the less fortunate.
During his travels he stopped in Siem Reap and found the culture welcoming, the smiles warm and a country brimming with potential– on which was at the same time resource rich yet cash poor in many ways.
That’s when he unearthed a startling statistic: of every $6 spent in the country only $1 actually stays – the rest leave to enrich the balance sheets of international companies. He felt it could be done better.
Ethan Crowley, Business Development Director at ABOUTAsia Travel says, “He had a vision of a sustainable business model, one which would utilize Cambodia’s rich resources and pour the profits into the local economy. So he decided to start a travel company which would bring lots of travellers, while ensuring the profits stayed in-country.”
“The way we’re set up is that at the end of every month, after paying staff and covering our costs, 100% of the profits go to our sister philanthropic arm, ABOUTAsia Schools.”
ABOUTAsia Schools started off with Andy, the founder, building Prey Chrouk secondary school with the help of other donors. He soon realised, however, that the problem wasn’t lack of schools in Cambodia but rather the resources they need; everything from pens, paper, uniforms to teachers, clean water, books etc.
“We’ve adapted over the years, coming alongside government schools and helping where we find a need. We start from the base level of providing pens and uniforms, all the way up to supporting teachers and creating learning centres where children can have access to books and free English lessons etc. We have our first village library going live next week. We pay the salaries of 18 Khmer teachers who teach English in government schools.”
All of this, and more, is funded by the travel company – in fact Andy the founder has NEVER drawn a salary since he started the business and organisation.
“To be clear, we are a luxury travel company, not a non-profit. We function as a business and a good business at that. It just so happens that the money we earn doesn’t go to enrich somebody or to shareholders, but rather it goes to schools. You could almost say that the children are our shareholders. That’s why we exist.”
The travel company not only delivers he support to the local community but they also deliver you with some of the most unique travel opportunities.
“We’re the only single-country Cambodia specialist around. Most other tour operators cover all of South East Asia, some cover the world, some cover Asia—a mile wide and an inch deep. As Cambodia experts, no one else can offer the depth that we do—we can do things that other companies can’t.”
“We work with some great specialists as well- so if a guest had a particular interest in archaeology then we can find one of the lead archaeology experts in Siem Reap to go in-depth. If someone is a keen photographer then we’ll arrange for a world class photographer to give them tips on photographing Angkor. If someone is especially interested in wildlife then we’ll match them up with an adventure specialist who is an expert on wildlife and entomology… In Phnom Penh we can work with an architecture specialist who can essentially tell the story of Phnom Penh through architecture.”
“Additionally many people come to see Angkor and miss one of the most amazing parts of Cambodia – its beautiful countryside and contemporary lifestyles rich in culture and history. People usually miss out on that.”
A unique company all round, ABOUTAsia travel is a brilliant way to see Cambodia while also leaving a positive mark on the country.
“In Cambodia you have a country rich in culture, beauty and history, and above all the amazing Cambodian people—vibrant, resilient, kind, welcoming people. As a traveller it’s exciting to be a positive factor, to be part of leaving this country a better place. I think it’s incredibly important to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem. So spend your travel dollars wisely in such a way that the entire country benefits – and in our case being a part of educating a generation of young Cambodians.”
100% of the money you spend with ABOUTAsia goes towards the future generations of Cambodians.
Read more about ABOUTAsia Schools and see what packages you can get through the Travel company.
Check out more of our Responsible Tourism series.