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With its postcard-perfect beaches, buzzing cities offering endless explorations and adventure-filled jungles, Thailand was drawing visitors in droves, having broken its annual tourism record with the arrival of 39 million travelers in 2019. After closing a famous beach, the “Land of a Thousand Smiles” was often included in conversations about the threats of overtourism before shutting down its borders due to COVID-19 earlier this year.
Personal safety and getting off the beaten path, away from crowds, will be a priority for many travelers as they navigate a world changed by the pandemic and make choices about what kind of experiences they want to have going forward.
And with an increased understanding of the negative effects of overtourism becoming more mainstream — along with concerns about climate change — responsible travelers want to have meaningful experiences that make a positive impact on the places they visit. In turn, destinations will need to rebuild with their own needs in mind after the devastating losses to the sector this year.
So as Thailand reopens and repositions itself to take advantage of pent-up demand among travelers, there is an opportunity to both meet the needs of future international tourists and to also create a more sustainable future for Thailand that benefits both people and planet. Community-based tourism — defined as travel that supports local communities through immersive cultural experiences — could be a key solution to connecting the needs and wants of both traveler and destination.
In the community of Ban Talae Nok, on Southern Thailand’s Andaman coast, conservation is rooted in tradition. Members of the community consider the adjacent mangrove their supermarket. It’s an ecosystem that supports the community with food and also jobs, because the locals know that their protected environment provides a sustainable way to attract travelers for ecotourism. At Ban Talae Nok, the homestay is central to the experience. Visitors here are welcomed as family, not as tourists.
Even before the pandemic made personal health top of mind, wellness tourism grew at a pace twice as fast as the rest of the sector in recent years, and is projected to reach $919 billion by 2022 according to a recent report from the Global Wellness Institute.
In northern Thailand’s Chiang Mai province, another community-based tourism experience gives travelers the opportunity to explore what wellness travel means by exploring ancient traditions with all six senses. Some of these experiences include fire massage to promote health, making organic herb balls, learning about methods of mindfulness and meditation and enjoying farm-to-table food with medicinal properties.
Time spent with the Baan Rai Kong Khing community is slow and nourishing. Practices have been passed down through generations, rather than created for tourists. It’s not unusual for visitors to return again and again.
Community-based tourism opens doors and amplifies culture, which in turn preserves it — one of the pillars of sustainable tourism. Beyond the beaches, food scene and landscapes, it’s the off-the-beaten-path cultural experiences that could set Thailand apart, offering travelers a well-rounded circuit that is unique to the country and also makes a positive impact.
As for the communities of Ban Talae Nok and Baan Rai Kong Khing? Both are staying strong through the pandemic and are well positioned to reopen when it is safe to travel again.
Ban Talae Nok has relied on their sustainable mangrove conservation practices to live off their local resources as they always have. Baan Rai Kong Khing is leaning into their expertise in health and wellness, taking care of their community through healthy food and working together. According to Somsak Inthachai, village head of Baan Rai Kong Khing, “health comes first, along with safety and mental well-being.”
“After this pandemic, everyone is welcome at Baan Rai Kong Khing,” he said.
The DetailsSustainable Thailandwww.glpfilms.com/sustainable-thailand
Thailand Community Tourismwww.glpfilms.com/thailand-community-tourism