The GROUND Story
GROUND began its life as a department of Khiri Travel, the award-winning destination management company, helping Khiri’s tour operators and travel agents around the world organize educational travel trips in Southeast Asia. As the demand and desire for educational trips grew, Khiri Travel created an educational travel department to focus on this burgeoning market and expanded from its original base in Indochina to new Khiri Travel countries like Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
In 2008, Khiri Travel came across a remote community called Sambor Prei Kuk on the main road between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Frustrated by poverty and far away from the big cities, this community lives nearby archaeological treasures from the pre-Angkorian Chenla Kingdom of the 7th century. A coalition including university, government and international NGOs was formed to help improve the local residents livelihoods in a sustainable way. Khiri Travel was asked to participate as the tourism sector partner to organize community-based tourism (CBT) to help alleviate poverty and promote conservation.
The initial CBT project lasted two years, but a strong bond was formed between the Khiri Travel educational travel team and the community. Although the tourism project was successful, many nearby villagers were still suffering from poor housing and a low standard of living. A simple mattress and a basic toilet for hosting homestay guests was more than they could afford. Khiri Travel devised a new program to offer Sambor Prei Kuk’s authentic tourism in exchange for volunteer work building homes and performing community service.
This experience made it clear that a destination management company, even one with an educational travel division and unwavering commitment to sustainability, can not be as successful as a company dedicated first and foremost to community development. At the same time, the synergies between Khiri Travel and what developed into GROUND are unmistakable: both companies’ entrepreneurial vision of small business as a catalyst for sustainability, Khiri Travel’s depth of experience in travel and tourism in Asia, and GROUND’s understanding of how to apply student and business teams to community development.