Decolonising tourism and development: from orphanage tourism to community empowerment in Cambodia

Tourism has been viewed as a development pathway, with alternative tourism such as volunteer tourism perceived as promising. However, critics have highlighted how white saviourism and Western ideologies of superiority may underpin both development agendas and activities like volunteer tourism. The COVID crisis has impacted both tourism and international development and calls for rethinking. This case study is situated at the intersections of tourism, development, and humanitarianism. It charts the evolution of the Cambodian Children’s Trust which emerged in 2007 from the co-founding of an orphanage by an Australian volunteer tourist and a local Khmer leader. Through a process of conscientisation, the orphanage has given way to a community development approach under the leadership of a 100 percent Khmer team in country, leaving footprints of empowering spaces rather than dependency structures. This article addresses the research question of how might we transform the paternalistic desire to “do good” found in both voluntourism and development into a practice of mutual solidarity? Illuminating issues of power and inequality in Western-led models, this article offers a framework for more just partnerships based on Freirian praxis: dialogue building critical consciousness, co-development of transformative praxis, capacity sharing and, trust in the capabilities of the people.

Article / News
Higgins-Desbiolles F.
Scheyvens R. A.
Bhatia B.
22 pages
Community Impact