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Organic Tourism campaign set for expansion across Thailand and Mekong countries

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A campaign to promote Organic Tourism across Thailand and the Greater Mekong Subregion has taken a major step forward with the convening of the first multi-sectoral workshop designed to brainstorm ideas and forge new partnerships to advance the cause.

The campaign is aimed at motivating hotels, restaurants, catering companies, supermarkets and other food outlets to wean farmers away from unhealthy and environmentally destructive pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. After taking root in Thailand, it is slated for expansion across Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Guangxi and Yunnan provinces of Southern China.

Over 40 participants including hoteliers, tour operators, academics, environmentalists, NGO and media representatives attended the Dec 12 workshop organised by Sampran Riverside and the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO), backed by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Sustainable Food Lab Thailand, Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Destination Mekong.

Held at the The Athenee Hotel Bangkok, the workshop was also designed as a brainstorming session for the first Mekong Trends Symposium on Organic Tourism to be held in Bangkok alongside the 4th UNWTO World Forum on Gastronomy Tourism between 30 May-1 June 2018.

In his opening presentation, TAT Governor Mr. Yuthasak Supasorn said Organic Tourism fitted in perfectly with the TAT’s marketing campaign to promote Gastronomy Tourism. It is also in accordance with His Majesty the late King Bhumibhol’s “Sufficiency Economy” philosophy and the 17-point global agenda known as the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

He noted that the Royal Thai Government is also promoting stronger linkages between its two bedrock economic pillars, agriculture and tourism, as part of its national 2017-2012 development strategy known as Thailand 4.0.

Mr. Jens Thraenhart, Executive Director, MTCO, said, “We are excited to introduce the Organic Tourism concept to the Mekong Subregion with Thailand as the lead country. Strong tourist growth is coupled with a shift of consumers looking for clean and healthy food. Thus, the industry has to adopt and prepare for sustainable living practices. Aligned to the GMS Tourism Sector Strategy 2016-2025, Organic Tourism can be an important social movement in that regard, combining the two most important economic sectors in the region.”

Mr. Arrut Navaraj, Managing Director, Sampran Riverside, said, “Organic Tourism is a social movement based on an inclusive business model and Sufficiency Economy Philosophy. Led by the private sector, the movement aims to build a more sustainable food system. It strives to empower everyone in the organic value chain to become collective leaders for change.  Organic Tourism is far more than just tourists visiting organic farms. It involves hotels, restaurants, and supermarkets, buying organic produce from local farmers and communicating to their customers its importance and benefits. Farm visits can be considered as additional activities to help guests better understand the farming experience.”

Mr. Arrut said the movement in Thailand is being coordinated by Sustainable Food Lab (Thailand), a social enterprise which assumes the role as backbone organisation. Funding support is being extended by the Thai Health Promotion Foundation, the Sookjai Foundation and the TAT. The intention is to extend the movement to other countries in the Greater Mekong Subregion.

Ms. Georginia Nepomuceno, Regional Cooperation Specialist under the ADB-administered GMS Core Agriculture Support Program (CASP) said, “Organic Tourism could be a powerful tool for sustainable development — improving farmer livelihoods, people’s health and the environment.”

She said the plan to expand the Organic Tourism agenda was formed at the sidelines of the Second GMS Agriculture Ministers’ Meeting (AMM-2) in September 2017 in Siem Reap. Both the MTCO and Sampran Riverside were speakers at the AMM-2 policy forum.

“The AMM-2 endorsed the Strategy for Promoting Safe and Environment-Friendly Agro-based Value Chains in the GMS and Siem Reap Action Plan 2018-2022. It aims to strengthen commitment to food security and safety, increase market access for small producers, and promote cross-sectoral collaboration between agriculture, tourism, environment, health, among others.”

Over the next few months, a number of activities will be rolled out, starting with the 4th Sookjai Organic Festival at Sampran Riverside between 15-17 December 2017 and the 1st Organic Tourism Social Lab between 18-20 January 2018 followed by a second one in February 2018.

The campaign will also be publicised at various travel trade events such as the Mekong Tourism Forum in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand on June 27-29 and ITB Asia in October 2018.

The MTCO plans to publish a Mekong Trends Snapshot Report on Organic Tourism, with key insights from the meetings, as well as case studies. It is projected for release at the UNWTO World Forum on Gastronomy Tourism.