Chhon Chhea Yudh, Cambodia, Professional Fellow of Economic Empowerment Program 2014
Chumreap Soua everyone!
When I wrote my initial blog post I had only been in the US for a few days, but already felt like I had learned so many new things. After more than two weeks here I continue to be amazed at all the new lessons and experiences this trip is bringing me, including meeting nice people and tourism professionals, exploring new places, trying new foods, and of course living in this cooler mountain climate! I have particularly enjoyed learning about the Expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark toward the western portion of United States, the Undaunted Courage. How could they manage in this weather?!
During the middle – and longest – section of the program, all of the participants split up and go to stay with their professional fellowship coordinator, who organizes a program of relevant meetings and activities for them. I was matched with Jeff Tiberi, who lives in Helena with his very kind wife Vicky.
Back in Cambodia, I was so excited to receive an email telling me Jeff had agreed to be my fellowship coordinator. I knew the program had not had a participant from a tourism background before, and that it was challenging for them to find the perfect match for me. I had no idea what to expect from Jeff, but as we exchanged emails I felt more and more confident that I could learn so much from him and his tourism network in Helena.
Jeff has a tremendous amount of experience managing staff and tourism sites around Montana, and I am so grateful that he is kind enough to host me here. For the first couple days of our exploration of Helena I was amazed to see that everybody seems to know Jeff! He is so connected to his community, and that has really helped me to know more about this beautiful city and her tourism magnets.
During my first week in Helena I’ve already met with some many interesting organizations, including the Montana Tourism Alliance, Small Business Development team in the Department of Commerce, Adventure Life, The Adventure Travel People, and a Tourism and Hospitality Consultant. Through these meetings I have learnt that over the years domestic tourism in United States has increased, which has done a great deal to support the independent growth of the American tourism industry and reduce their dependence on inbound tourism.
Cambodia receives around 3.5 million foreign visitors every year, and that number is steadily growing. In comparison domestic tourism is relatively limited, but perhaps we as a nation should explore growth in this area. Aside from perhaps reducing our reliance on inbound tourism, I believe domestic travel could also be a powerful way of connecting people with the variety within their own nation.
For example, I have been both fascinated and impressed by the way that Native American culture is respected and celebrated in Montana. I know this has not always been the case, but it is wonderful to see how this part of the eclectic American society is now being acknowledged. I think when we learn about other people and cultures – whether in our own country or another – we learn to be more open-minded and compassionate.
Aside from the obvious (Angkor What?!), there are so many beautiful and interesting places in Cambodia that so many Khmer people never see or explore. There is a rich diversity – such as the indigenous tribes of the East – that is so often overlooked, but I hope one day that it is celebrated in the way that I have seen it being done in the United States.
I am so thankful to this fellowship for introducing me to so many different wonderful people, and giving me the chance to explore life from alternative perspectives. It has reminded me why I first wanted to work in tourism, and strengthened my belief in the educational potential of travel – particularly when travelling with an open mind. I finish my blog post today with a famous quote:
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page” – Saint Augustine