Chheang Vannarith is the executive director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace.
Raised by a single mother under the poverty line in Kampong Thom province, he was able to attain a PhD in Asia-Pacific studies.
“Living through civil wars and hardship empowered me to overcome obstacles to my education and career,” he told “Hello VOA” on Monday. “Poverty was a driving force to success.”
He had wanted to be part of a new intellectual class, he said, one that could replace those lost to the Khmer Rouge.
Chheang Vannarith specializes in the political economy of heritage tourism, and he said Cambodia’s tourism sector, its second-largest driver of economic growth, needed to do more.
Revenues from the more than 2.5 million tourists who visit Cambodia every year, especially the temples of Angkor Wat, a World Heritage site, can help create jobs and boost the economy, but these revenues are not evenly benefiting people in touristic areas, he said.
While tourism is a critical part of the economy, Cambodia must expand its resources, he said.
“Cambodia currently depends on three factors: textiles, tourism, and agriculture,” he said. “Cambodia also needs to pay attention to encouraging the services industry, IT, and manufacturing. By doing this, Cambodia diversifies the sources of its revenues.”
And rather than just commercial tourism, Cambodia should also look toward high-quality tourism, focusing on tourists who seek to understand its culture, the kind of tourism, he said, that does not rely on temple ruins.