“Tourism has the potential to change (communities),” said Samnang Nuonsinoeun. And tourism is precisely the tool the 17-year-old Cambodian and his fellow Liger Leadership Academy classmates have employed to bring about change within their communities.
Led by Samnang, Sreypich Khon, 17, Sopheak Thy and Marady Heang, both 16, Journeys of Change was launched in September 2017 as part of Liger’s innovative curriculum that aims to create Cambodia’s next generation of leaders, problem-solvers and entrepreneurs.
Seeing education as a key to eradicating poverty in the long term, the academy scours the country’s 203 state primary schools, testing more than 12,000 students to find the top 60 – who are often plucked from poverty – who each receive a full residential scholarship.
When tasked with the challenge of creating a company that can impact communities, the students immediately turned to Cambodia’s growing tourism landscape. The result is Journeys of Change, which offers cultural bike tours of Phnom Penh that are led by students.
Sreypich shared: “It started as an idea to share our experiences with foreigners visiting Cambodia. Tourists usually only go to major attractions, and don’t learn about the life of Cambodians and how we live. We really want to share that experience.”
The team subsequently received training from social enterprise Soksabike – a bike company that has been running tours in the north-western province of Battambang since 2010 – and set about interviewing, recruiting and training a team of guides aged 15 to 17 from their school.
The group also plotted the half-day 22km tour route that stops at 10 locations around the capital and surrounding countryside. Attractions include the Royal Palace, pagodas, markets and a ferry across the Mekong River to rural Arey Ksat.
The team also made sure breaks at small local businesses were included during the tours, ensuring the communities they passed through benefited from their tours, while tourists enjoy an immersive local experience.
Initially, the group hit roadblocks as they struggled to effectively market their business. Sopheak shared: “It was challenging because we didn’t have any customers at all for the first three months. A few months ago we had to shift our entire business model, and now we have had clients for seven weeks in a row.”
The team has also partnered with hotels and businesses to promote their start-up, as well as attended promotional events and made use of social media to drive business.
Now, Journeys of Change is gearing up to launch a second tour that introduces visitors to the capital’s colourful array of markets, and there are plans in the pipeline to start a sustainable shopping tour in the capital.
Samnang said: “We don’t want to use communities as a commodity; we want to empower them. And we want to show visitors the real Cambodia and share our experiences.”