Creating Online Experiences: Lessons From BeTreed

by Ruby Cray

A destination too-often zoomed through during an overland Southeast Asia trip, Cambodia offers diverse experiences for families, backpackers, and adventurers alike. The Kingdom is famous for the UNESCO World Heritage temple complex, Angkor Wat, yet just an hour outside of this major tourist hub is a wide variety of ecotourism areas, frequented (in precedented times) by both foreign travellers and locals. In a very positive trend, prior to COVID-19 the growing desire for green, nature-based, and authentic community experiences had drawn many tourists to more remote provinces, like Preah Vihear, Ratanaikiri, Mondulkiri in the north, and to the southern expanses of Cardamom Mountains in Koh Kong province. The revenue from ecotourists provided critical funding to conservationists working to protect the fragile biodiversity in these places.

Phnom Tbeang, Preah Vihear Province, Cambodia

Phnom Tbeang, Preah Vihear Province, Cambodia

In fact, when done right, ecotourism funds wildlife and habitat protection, provides added income for local communities, and ensures ecosystems are valued for their cultural worth as well as natural resources. 

This, of course, depends on travellers being able to reach the destination. With international arrivals all but ceased to Cambodia, the effects to local communities and natural areas have many worried.

Cambodia’s critically endangered giant Ibis poisoned during the global pandemic.

Cambodia’s critically endangered giant Ibis poisoned during the global pandemic.

With planes and cashflow ground to a halt, and the added challenge of remote locations, ecotourism providers must innovate to maintain connection with future travellers and ensure the holistic benefits to people and nature continue.

Betreed Treehouse

The treehouse accommodations at Betreed

Ecotourism destination BeTreed is one such destination: a forest oasis in Preah Vihear province. BeTreed offers tree-house nature escapes, zip-lining, hiking, and jungle immersion in some of Cambodia’s stunning natural areas full to the brim with wildlife. 

Sharyn and Ben, the duo behind the destination, have literally put heart and soul into protecting the forested area through building relationships with the local community and government, establishing legal protection through land title, and ground patrolling. Both are worried about the impact that the pandemic will have on endangered wildlife and the important habitat for endangered species around BeTreed. 

This is by no means isolated to Preah Vihear province or Cambodia. Financial pressures and lack of enforcement during COVID-19 has led to an increase in illegal logging of protected forest globally, which has, and will continue to have, detrimental flow on effects to wildlife. 

Naturally, less tourism means less income. So for Sharyn and Ben, this is a challenge to maintain conservation activities over the community forest site. 

Cambodia holds a very dear place in the Good Tourism team’s heart. We jumped at the chance of partnering with USAID Greening Prey Lang and working with BeTreed to find innovative ways to fill the income gap that an absence of tourism has created. 

Quality, inspiring, and unique nature-based experiences online can do just that. And, with further digging, this was a significant gap in what was on offer. 

But how to translate an experience that relies so heavily on physically being in nature, online? We’ve put together a list of suggestions that can help create unique online experiences that will help with added income, and ensure ecotourism destinations are at the top of the travel list when it is safe to do so. 

Tips for creating successful online experiences:

1. Don’t simply replicate your offline products online

Yes we’d all like to be hiking through the Cambodian rainforest, but we all know that is best done in situ! Go further, think about how you can show your audience who you are, your values and your mission. 

2. Monetise it

Although online experiences can be an awesome marketing tool, customers are willing to pay, especially if the proceeds are going to conservation! Do your research. Find out what’s on offer and see where your experience fits. 

3. It doesn’t have to be live, be innovative with your tech 

One of the incredible selling points for ecotourism destinations can be remoteness, which is not ideal for internet connections for online experiences. Don’t let this stop you! Think outside the box. Can you supplement pre-recorded footage with a live interview?

4. Mind the Gap

There is a smorgasbord of free online experiences. Where is the gap in what products are offered? How can you fill this gap?

5. Make it Authentic

Like many nature-based adventure seekers, customer service and authentic human connection is also a strong driver to purchase. Experience shows us that travellers that choose ecotourism areas or community tourism want genuine connections with the people behind the destination/experience. Even more so now that many travellers have been missing human connection. 

6. Leverage the Connection

Like face-to-face experiences, find ways to maintain connection with your audience: add them to a mailing list, reach out during fundraising campaigns, and engage them as future travellers. Use this as a way to reach supporters and build your eco-traveller community for the long term.  

Good Tourism works in partnership with USAID Greening Prey Lang to support sustainable tourism in north-central Cambodia.