Responsible Tourism Cambodia – Babel Guest House

By Emily Martin

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.

Responsible tourism can be done at any budget and not just by ‘high-flyers.’

Babel is an intimate guesthouse surrounded by a tropical garden and with an outside bar and restaurant area. At around just $25 (cheaper in low season) for a night it makes a relaxing and tranquil place to stay for travellers searching for a bargain… not just this but they also operate with a strong focus on responsible tourism.

Katrine Solhaug, owner of the Guesthouse says, “We constantly seek to provide benefits from the tourism industry to the local community in Siem Reap.” They also strive to educate the new generation of tourism and hotel workers from other countries on the importance of sustainable and responsible tourism by opening their eyes to the business here in Cambodia.

All the staff, drivers and guides which Babel hire are local. They all receive training, good working conditions, fair salaries and flexible working hours so they can continue with other education.

“My background is in social work and I love the programme. We give them the opportunity to grow, from coming in and not speaking English, doing housekeeping and eventually going to the kitchen, learning English and then into the restaurant to talk with the guests. The goal is to get everyone into the reception and front office and then get sponsored for education so they can get better jobs and start in a 5 star hotel or move careers.”

Currently 11 of the staff have been funded to study at both BBU and ACE Universities. This is an opportunity that few Cambodians get because of the high prices to attend classes. “We also have English training here – in fact one of our employees who is very good at English and wants to be a teacher is practicing by teaching the staff for an hour a day, 5 days a week.”

Because of the training aspect and study support, once the staff have reached a high level they often leave for better jobs, or different ones based on their newly received degrees. “It’s a rotation of old people leaving an new ones coming in… it’s challenging and sad letting them go but it’s really good. We do it because it’s fantastic to see people improve.”

The action in responsible tourism doesn’t stop there though. Katrina is passionate about teaching others about how to improve the future of tourism.

“Eco-tourism and responsible tourism is growing worldwide. I’m from Norway and it’s one of the richest countries in the whole world and I wanted to join the wave of letting people know about responsible tourism. I got the idea to start a school for Norwegian student where we can bring university students to Cambodia and teach them practically about the industry.”

“We now have a collaboration with a university in Norway and we bring students to Cambodia for 3 months of their course. They learn exactly the same that they learn in Norway but thy stay here in the middle of the tourism industry and they learn by seeing and not just reading in the books.”

The team do extrusions to places like Shinta Mani, Phare, The Cambodian Circus, Soria Moria and the landmine museum – all places that focus on the local society.

“They are the future of the tourism industry in the world. This is one of the fastest growing industries in the world and I think while we grow we should also share with the new generation. They are the ones who will make sure that our grandchildren live on this planet… it’s such a cliché but it’s important.”

Staying at the Babel Guesthouse allows you to be part of this business with initiative, and a family-like feel to it. Travellers visiting will also get to know the right information and right places to go while in Siem Reap in order to leave a positive impact on the community.

“Our workers get training from Friends International and ConCERT so they are well schooled-up on good advice to give.”


Read more about Babel’s responsible tourism work.

Shinta Mani is another business in Siem Reap with responsible tourism at its core.