Current Sustainability Practices and Experiences on Ecotourism in Thailand

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) initialized the National Ecotourism Policy in 1996 (TAT, 1997, cited in Pomburom et al., 2009), involving many organizations and NGOs to put forward ecotourism nationwide. The Thai government believed that the community-based ecotourism would have the potential to encourage nature resource conservation, generate income and also ensure cultural preservation (Sonobon, 2009, cited in Pomburom, et al., 2009). The decision to turn direction from mass tourism industry to ecotourism in Thailand is in order to make tourism sustainable. In order to implement ecotourism, an ecotourism strategy was formulated with the guidelines to go with it.

 

The current social sustainability practices on ecotourism in Thailand are as follows:

 

Laveruck and Thangphet (2007) conducted a study on building community capacity for locally managed ecotourism in Northern Thailand. They provided an approach for building community capacity which is useful for the social sustainability of ecotourism. The focus on capacity building is on development of skills and abilities of the local community to manage locally the ecotourism enterprises.

 

Ecotourism is defined by The International Ecotourism Society as responsible travel to natural areas which conserves the environment and improves the welfare of the local people. It can be gleaned from this definition that ecotourism is closely linked to conservation and sustainable environmental development. The Laveruck and Thangphet (2007) study provided the experiences of two communities in Northern Thailand on how they built their capacity towards locally managed ecotourism. One of the social sustainability practices in Thailand is building community capacity which empowers local community to manage the ecotourism in their area as an enterprise. Since one of the sustainability goals of ecotourism is social development of the local people, the approach to community building has practical implications.

 

Community-based ecotourism has been seen by the Thai government as a means to raise the income of rural people as well as improve their lives (Laveruck and Thangphet, 2007). The two communities in Northern Thailand shared the experiences of their success in managing the ecotourism venture after capacity building.

 

Vecturine (2000, cited in Laveruck and Thangphet, 2007) remarked that it should be noted that the local people do not have the capacity, the knowledge, and skills as well as the competencies to locally manage ecotourism enterprises. It is the desire of the Thai government to provide the local people training on capacity building at the community level. In this way, they will have the capacity to operate a profitable ecotourism enterprise.

Another social sustainability practice in Thailand is the application of local participatory approach in order that the local people will actively participate in ecotourism activities.

Economic Sustainability Practices on Ecotourism in Thailand

One of the sustainability goals of ecotourism is economic sustainability. This means that for the ecotourism enterprise to be sustainable, it has to be economically profitable as a business. Because of the emphasis on the community participation in ecotourism, the economic sustainability practice is linked to the economic benefits being derived from locally managing the ecotourism attraction. Revenues that are generated from tourist arrivals are shared between the community and the forest officers which shall be used for environment conservation and protection. The income from ecotourism services being offered to the tourists such as homestays, tour guides, and souvenir shops will improve the income of the local people.

 

Providing local employment also will improve the lives of the unemployed members of the community. Additional income also is derived from handicraft making which are sold to the tourists. In this way some local people become micro entrepreneurs by putting up micro businesses to cater to the needs of the tourists.

 

Thus, these economic sustainability practices in Thailand fulfill the economic goal of generating income that will benefit the local community and help in poverty alleviation.

Environmental Sustainability Practices on Ecotourism in Thailand

The Ecotourism Guidelines from Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) clearly provide for the environmental sustainability of ecotourism (TAT, 1997, cited in Thavarasukha, n.d.)  The guidelines are as follows:

  1. Ecotourism management must manage natural resources in order to retain their original condition as far as possible, and ecotourists are to abstain from travelling in sensitive areas which are easily damaged and difficult to rehabilitate.
  2. Ecotourism management must take the character of existing resources into consideration in order to arrange appropriate activities.
  3. Ecotourism must promote educational development and the creation of awareness to maintain the ecosystem of the area rather than exploit economic
  4. Ecotourism management must involve the local people in the development process particularly in the transfer of community culture. This should include their participation in formulating development plans.
  5. In developing sustainable tourism, related organizations must be given the specific roles in promoting ecotourism.
  6. An ecotourism plan must be incorporated in the district, provincial, and regional levels, along with sufficient budget allocation.
  7. The development objectives should be supported by research which analyzes all aspects of tourism so to adjust management guidelines with the aim of solving any problems that arise and to improve the plan step by step.
  8. The law should be used strictly to maintain environmental conditions by providing service and cultivating discipline among tourists.
  9. A Code of Conduct should be provided to facilitate proper ecotourism
  10. An ecotourism network should be established for the coordination and joint management at all levels.

 

As can be gleaned from the above ecotourism guidelines, all three aspects of sustainable ecotourism have been considered such as social, economic, and environmental sustainability. These guidelines have served to guide all ecotourism enterprises in Thailand. With the Ecotourism Guidelines in place, the sustainability of ecotourism is assured all over Thailand.

 

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