The Planning For Better Days in Thailand session at WiT Experience 2021 was a widely anticipated one, following the good news that Thailand is going to scrap quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers from 1 November. Singapore is on the list of at least 10 low-risk countries.
While the news may have tourism players busy working out the best packages and activities to entice travellers, Numfhon Boonyawat, Deputy Governor for Policy & Planning for Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), has other ideas on her agenda. She invited the industry to look beyond the dollars and numbers game to make a difference to quality tourism that is responsible and ethical.
Boonyawat briefly shared that the re-opening of Thailand via Phuket Sandbox has been well received with 51,748 tourists recorded from July to October 19, staying an average eight days. But she stressed the importance of looking beyond just the resorts, attractions and beautiful beaches in attracting visitors.
It’s a viewpoint that seems to run contrary to the importance of generating tourism receipts that contribute to 20% of Thailand’s GDP, but she believes strongly in her vision for pushing the Bio-Circular-Green Economic Model (BCG) for tourism. While she acknowledged it’s a hard sell when local small businesses are struggling, it’s a model that will help the economy in the long run.
The BCG model promotes a virtuous cycle of responsible tourism by educating HoReCa stakeholders to support local organic farmers, engage in fairtrade practices, commit to food and plastic waste management, and to create sustainable activities for consumers. The model has a score system that helps businesses earn recognition and marketing support while consumers are able to redeem scores for rewards when they support these businesses.
To enable this mission, TAT has stepped in take this grassroots initiative to another level by partnering with Thailand Organic Consumers Association to market and promote adoption by consumers and participation by tourism stakeholders.
Boonyawat said the challenge is to change mindsets and perceptions. “With the Phuket Sandbox for example, how do you get consumers to think beyond the hotel, the resort and the beach? Tourists will be surprised by how much more Phuket has to offer in terms of organic farming and local produce. By educating them, they will become empowered that they are part of a virtuous cycle of change.”
While Boonyawat’s vision seems idealistic, what is certain is that the topic on sustainability and ethical businesses will not be going away, and it’s something that was emphasised and echoed by other key speakers and panellists at the conference.
As she had shared, “not every province has to open up to tourism, but they can still benefit from tourism to the country”. It’s a wise statement that could bear fruit from the results of a successful BCG tourism model.