Beyond Unique Escapes is a tours and travel business located in Siem Reap Cambodia. Officially starting in 2009, Beyond is a partnership between a Cambodian couple and an Australian couple, all of whom are committed to running responsible tours in Cambodia. Our business model is designed to ensure all tours give back to Cambodia, directly benefit local people and respectfully promote Cambodia’s people and culture. We recognized early on that many visitors come, visit the amazing temples and see the tourist town of Siem Reap, but rarely visited any other attractions and their tourist dollar did not benefit many local people. While we provide the usual temple tours, Beyond has created a number of other tours and attractions for people to visit that highlight more of Cambodia’s amazing people and culture, and allow more local people to benefit from tourism.
Beyond’s history is part of our success story. Initially we (the Australian couple – Fiona and Anthony) ran a guesthouse and many of the programs Beyond runs started here almost 8 years ago. We always looked to recruit people with the right attitude and provide them with the opportunity to train with us, and learn and develop. At this time we recruited a young and enthusiastic woman to wash dishes. She spoke very little English but over the years pushed herself to learn new skills and move throughout the business. Today she and her husband are co owners of Beyond. Srey Leak is now fluent in English, has traveled to Indonesia to present Cambodian Cooking in a leading restaurant, and is often found leading one of our Cambodian Cooking Classes (which also visits a local family and provides them with a day’s rice). Srey Leak is a great example of how far local people can go when they work hard and are given opportunities to learn and develop. Excitingly Srey Leak and her husband continue to drive this as our standard business practice and both of them work extremely hard to give back to their community and their staff.
All of our teams are trained on responsible tourism practices, child safe behaviors and environmental issues.
At a high level there are a number of things Beyond Unique Escapes do to run our business responsibly. Our regular small group tours are all capped at 8 people to minimize our impact on the environment and places we visit. All of our teams are trained on responsible tourism practices, child safe behaviors and environmental issues. We have established an NGO called HUSK to formalize all of the work within the two key villages that we support, and provide transparency of this work. Wherever possible our tours engage with regional local guides involved in community programs that work to support local people and the environment. Beyond has a number of tours that directly contribute to local people and communities, and in addition to this, 5% of all profits are donated to our NGO HUSK which works with vulnerable families in two key villages in Siem Reap province.
Our Day in a Life Tour is one example of how we deliver responsible business practices. This small group tour runs three times per week to a rural village around 18km from Siem Reap town. Each tour works with a local host family, all of whom are vulnerable families with no regular income and living in extremely poor conditions. For hosting the tour the family directly receives some daily income, materials for works at their house and lunch. For every participant on the tour, Beyond pays a larger amount to our NGO HUSK which works in the village providing community projects at a village level. Customers who participate on this tour have an opportunity to spend time interacting with their host family and learning about life in a typical Cambodian village. They undertake work at their host families house, (as an example this might be repairing thatch roof or wall panels, helping provide and plant vegetable seeds or fruit trees) according to the families situation and needs. We think most importantly this tour connects tourists to Cambodia with local people outside of the tourist centre of Siem Reap and allows villagers to benefit from tourism. The tour runs year round which greatly assists the village when there is no farming work available and families struggle to find enough to eat.
Another example of our small group tours is the Treak Village Walk and Talk tour. This is a guided tour through a local village, giving tourists the opportunity to lean about local culture and customs and meet with local families in a respectful way. Beyond gives 50% of the tour fee to HUSK for village projects. This includes things like the provision of water filters, water wells, soil for roadways, rubbish collection & other village projects.
Beyond runs a large number of tour programs with school groups from around the word. Our school group programs all connect in with HUSK our NGO and each group works with a specific village project. Recently this has included building an extension to a medical centre and our new Kompheim Village community centre. These buildings have been built all using old plastic water bottles filled with clean plastic waste collected and stuffed into the bottles by villagers. Our two Eco Block classrooms are now used to provide English lessons through our NGO, to village children three times per week. These programs provide a platform for environmental education for the visiting students, and provide a base to begin providing training to village families who are mostly unaware of the issues of dumping or burning waste.
This year HUSK and Beyond worked with students to develop a mico-business to support women within the village. This program has provided three women with the opportunity to be trained in sewing and following this in creating Softies (soft toys). This program has enabled these women to provide their families with regular income. This has meant the families can eat three meals per day, buy medicine when sick and shift from owing money to being in a cash positive situation for the first time. Making Softies is completely flexible, women can work around their children and families needs, work from home or come into our Community site when they want to. We are currently in the process of building a Workshop at our Kompheim Village Community Site (currently we have shared sewing machines set up at the back of our classrooms) where the women can come and use the sewing machines to create the Softies which are currently sold in Siem Reap, Australia and Hong Kong.
We are committed to continuing to provide tours that highlight Cambodia and her amazing people and wherever possible connect visitors with the real Cambodia. This is a country that is moving well beyond its tragic and horrific past, a place where people given the right opportunities can thrive. Our goal is to keep seeking opportunities to enable local people and communities to benefit from the growing numbers of tourists coming to Cambodia. We recognize that responsible tourism is a partnership between both tour operators and tourists and we hope to help educate visitors on responsible practices. As a tour operator we take our role in this very seriously. We are strongly opposed to the promotion of things like ‘sex tourism’ and other anti social practices, and are team are trained on how to politely refuse such requests. We have found over and over again that once visitors have an opportunity to spend time with local people and take the time to learn about life here, that the amazing spirit of people here becomes their enduring memory of Cambodia.