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PATA working together to improve CBT in Thailand

On November 26, 2019, the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) held its first community-based tourism (CBT) working meeting at the PATA Engagement Hub in Bangkok, Thailand

The meeting brought together government, civil society and the private sector to improve CBT product offerings and the marketability of tourism in remote and indigenous communities, with the goal of providing authentic experiences and meaningful encounters that are beneficial to all.

“Tourists visiting remote and indigenous communities in Thailand have often been criticised for abusing rather than empowering local communities. The overall result is that less tourists are taking part in CBT activities fearing exploitation of the local communities,” said PATA CEO Dr, Mario Hardy. “Nevertheless, there are villages that would still like to supplement their income and preserve their culture through CBT. These communities face many barriers as the issues are complex, ranging from citizenship, ownership, infrastructure, carrying capacity and marketability.”

During the meeting, PATA Director of Sustainability and Social Responsibility, Graham Harper, led a panel discussion exploring the challenges and various aspects of CBT. Panelists included Watcharee Churugsa, Director of Office of Community-Based Tourism, Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration (DASTA), Charlotte Louwman-Vogels, Founder & Director, Fair Tourism, Chi Ngo, Educational Travel Executive, DISCOVA, and Jakrapol Baesuvan (Joe), Senior Director of Marketing & Strategy, Local Alike.

Ms Churugsa noted that, “DASTA CBT Models show that CBT makes local people proud of their identity, their culture and their natural resources; harmonises the community, and uplifts the quality of their lives. Meanwhile visitors gain unique and authentic experiences, and the exchange of cultures. Our end goal is for CBT to bring happiness to both communities and visitors.”

Ms Ngo added, “To make CBT products sustainable, for-profit companies always need to be thinking about creating benefits for the community, the tourists and company. That is why we are always talking about ‘Win/Win/Win’, a win for the community, a win for tourists, and a win for the company. This is how for-profit companies can make CBT sustainable.”

Some of the points from the panel discussion included DASTA’s mission and operations, how they go about certifying communities, and the challenges they face in creating a sustainable CBT product in Thailand; Local Alike’s business model as a social enterprise and how they measure impacts in the communities they work with; DISCOVA’s process in balancing profit-making with community benefits, and their advice to other tour operators, and Fair Tourism’s mission in assisting the Huay Pu Keng village in training, the challenges these communities face in marketing their product offerings, and how CBT tourism should be empowering rather exploiting.

After the panel discussion, the participants broke off into smaller groups to discuss the multi-stakeholder actions that are needed to strengthen CBT, which included: 

  • DMC’s need to have a list of communities, what activities they do and where they are regionally in order to market CBT; communities and local tour guides need training to successfully execute CBT,
  • The Thai government should promote CBT as an experience that all tourist should have when visiting Thailand,
  • Barriers such as lack of infrastructure, access and marketability need to be addressed so that the whole value chain can be strengthened,
  • Trust and a mindset of working with communities as a partner rather than a supplier are necessary for CBT to be beneficial for all.

“The Thai Government has recognised the potential of CBT to support the livelihoods of some of the most vulnerable communities in Thailand and have created policies to encourage it. PATA believes that community-based tourism is an effective way to share the benefits of tourism to underserved areas and that this can start by forging partnerships for change. Properly done CBT can alleviate poverty, protect minority cultures and local environments,” said Mr Harper. “The CBT Workshop was an initial step to build bridges amongst PATA members from government, civil society and private sector. The goal being, to provide authentic experiences and meaningful encounters that are beneficial to all.”

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