With more than 22 million visitors to Thailand, the era of attracting numbers is over. The next generation will focus on sustainability and preservation of environment, culture and heritage.
By Imtiaz Muqbil, Executive Editor, www.travel-impact-newswire.com
In June 2003, Thailand saw the launch of a public organization known as the Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration (DASTA) specifically to formulate policies and administrative plans for the sustainable development of tourism in specific areas nationwide.
This requires it to coordinate with government agencies nationwide and the civil sector and strike a balance between the economic, social and environmental impact of tourism development, while retaining the natural beauty of the places, as well as their local culture and traditions. Six sites were designated but many more have been added since:
1. Chang Islands and their vicinity in the Eastern provinces.
2. Historical parks of Sukhothai, Sri Satchanalai, Kamphaeng Phet.
3. Loei Province
4. Nan Old Town
5. Uthong Ancient City.
The sixth site, Pattaya City and its vicinity, is already gets more than its fair share of visitors. The first five are well worth visiting. Information about them available on the www.tourismthailand.org website.
According to Dr. Nalikatibhag Sangsnit, Director-General of DASTA, the acronym also reflects the core philosophy of the organisation’s work ethic:
D = Determination: To work with patience, enthusiasm, and full determination and professionalism as true experts in tourism;
A = Alliance: To work in an integrated manner with communities and all related allies in tourism development;
S = Service Mind: To work with volunteer spirit, and serve willingly and sincerely;
T = Teamwork: To coordinate efficiently, taking in diverse views with understanding and mutual respect;
A = Audience: To reach out to the community, listening to both positive and negative views, with respect for different opinions.
Dr Nalikatibhag, a former Vice Minister for Information and Communication Technology and former Commissioner, Port Authority of Thailand, says that global warming, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change are having a dramatic impact on natural resources and local livelihoods.
“How can we meet these social and economic challenges? Are our planning instruments sufficient to minimize impacts? Which market mechanisms are capable to influence decisions for emission mitigation and impact control?”
According to Dr Nalikatibhag, “Tourism plays a major role for the Thai economy. Many of the tourism activities are closely linked to natural attractions like national parks, coral reefs or pristine beaches. Their conservation is of major importance to keep tourists visiting Thailand.”
He adds, “The tourism sector has great potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through energy-efficiency and alternative energy, for example in hotels and the transportation sector. Hence, the consideration of climate change issues in the planning and implementation of tourism development is of great importance to protect the tourism sector from negative impacts.”
Between 2011-12, DASTA focussed on the development of destinations on islands in the waters off Trat Province as Low Carbon Destinations. Moreover, DASTA also extended the eco-friendly tourism to other designated areas such as the development of DASTA Low Carbon Route in Designated Area of Loei, and the Green Historical Town development in the Designated Areas of Sukhothai-Si Satchanalai – Kamphaeng Phet Historical Parks.
The concept of Creative Tourism is being invoked, to emphasise value creation for tourism resources on the basis of “Thainess,” such as lifestyle, local wisdom, art, culture and history. An agreement on cooperation in sustainable tourism development was signed with Thammasat University in developing a model of creative tourism in Sukhothai – Si Satchanalai – Kamphaeng Phet Historical Parks, and the Designated Area of Loei.
To ensure clear and tangible results, DASTA has defined measurement indicators, such as, tourism income of communities in designated areas, the amount of allowable carbon emission for establishments, and the setting of standards for certification of community tourism destinations.
One of its prime projects was cooperation with the Royal Thai Navy to sink a decommissioned navy ship off Chang island so that it can become a breeding ground for corals and become a scuba-diving site covering an area of 4,280sqkm off Chang Islands, Mak Islands, and Kut Islands. The ship, too, was known as the HTMS Chang.
Said Dr Nalikatibhag, “DASTA is seeking to divert tourists keen on diving, especially scuba diving, to sites other than existing ones, which have become congested with impacts on undersea ecosystem. HTMS Chang’s special feature is that the prow is meant to accommodate tank transportation through an opening of 110m in length, 15m in width, and 26m in height, with numerous chambers within the ship, suitable to be a home for fish.”
In June 2012, DASTA held a community tourism festival at the Designated Area of Chiang Mai Night Safari office in Hang Dong District, Chiang Mai Province, to provide a forum for exchange of experiences among community tourism leaders in the designated areas, leaders of local administrative organization, and qualified resource persons. The event attracted a total of 430 participants from seven designated areas.
The highlight was a special lecture by Professor Dr.Prawase Wasi, a well-known Thai academic and social scientist, on the topic of “Tourism Community in Sufficiency Way.”
Dr Prawase said that community tourism can be a useful tool to promote the concept of “full-cycle development.” He said, “If we make tourism system full cycle, covering economic, social, cultural and environmental aspects, including local reconciliation. Any place, Suvarnabhumi, ASEAN or Angkor Wat would benefit, with the eradication of ethnic dissent or even conflicts with neighbors. All these can be healed by tourism.”
He added, “Cultural economy means the strengthening of the community by creating the body of knowledge for people in the community to learn from direct experiences in the locality. It is an economic system that reflects the process of combining culture, economy, and technology together and in harmony with local environment.
“That knowledge does not come from rote learning alone, but from real experiences in natural resource conservation. There are more than 80,000 villages in communities across Thailand. Each community represents a well-balanced lifestyle, with human to human relations and human to environment relations co-existing peacefully as a culture.
“As trees stand on strong roots, so a society exists, to be exact, on cultural roots. The basic unit of a society is a community. Just like building a pagoda, one must start from a firm foundation,” Dr Prawase said.
In 2014, Dr Nalikatibhag says, DASTA will persistently push for balance under the framework of Co – Creation, Low Carbon Tourism and Creative Tourism. The goal for success will be the upgrading of indices for operation success, based on the “Index of Happiness” for community members in designated areas, such as income, quality of life, society and culture, as well as environmental condition of destinations.
Further info on DASTA and its activities is available at www.dasta.or.th in both Thai and English.