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TUESDAY, June 06, 2023
The power of partnerships: Thailand’s sustainable tourism can thrive with collaboration

The power of partnerships: Thailand’s sustainable tourism can thrive with collaboration

SATURDAY, April 01, 2023

In the deep waters off Phuket, hobby divers scour the sea to pick up garbage on holiday. Elsewhere, in one of Thailand’s many villages, visitors are engrossed in baking banana bread using locally-sourced ingredients. These activities are now in vogue, as the rise of sustainable tourism in the Land of Smiles mirrors a growing worldwide trend that is here to stay.

Research has shown that over 80 percent of global travelers feel that sustainable travel is important – and Thailand is doubling down on environmentally friendly trips. With tourism a key pillar of the Thai economy, the country is promoting sustainable tourism development in major cities and secondary cities. It is one of the strategic prongs under the Bio-Circular-Green Economic Model (BCG), introduced by the Thai government in 2021 to facilitate responsible economic development.

But government initiatives alone cannot revitalize the travel sector. A collective effort is needed to create economic value, strengthen communities and promote inclusive growth that benefits both the environment and society.

The power of partnerships: Thailand’s sustainable tourism can thrive with collaboration

In fact, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) recently targeted a revenue gain of 80 percent of pre-pandemic levels this year, adding that it would encourage collaboration within the ecosystem to innovate and develop sustainable travel products.

Strong cooperation is the bedrock of any successful campaign. With robust public-private partnerships (PPPs), Thailand will be able to create new travel experiences that can drive sustainable economic growth.

The power of partnerships: Thailand’s sustainable tourism can thrive with collaboration

Joining forces for “glocal” trips  

One area of sustainable travel gaining popularity is local organic tourism, where travelers visit farms that produce their own food. Driving this effort in tandem in Phuket are TAT and the Thai Organic Consumers Association. The initiative not only spotlights farmers and raises their profits, but also offers a fresh option on many stale itineraries.

These networks across the country form a chain of partnerships, from the government to grassroots level, that also doubles as education for interested travelers to learn more about sustainable travel.

Local workers and communities are ready to play a crucial role by taking on the mantle of eco-warriors, having noted consumers’ shift towards sustainability. Activities such as coral conservation have gotten travelers to think more critically about the environment. While the affordability of these experiences may differ from place to place, research from Accenture shows that 83 percent of 25- to 34-year-old travelers are willing to shell out for sustainable choices.

Another avenue for organizations to realize Thailand’s sustainable tourism goals is by joining the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC). For travel platforms like Traveloka, collaborations with local businesses, hoteliers, and governments in conjunction with the GSTC further elevate sustainable tourism standards in the travel sector.

Having sponsored sustainable training programs with hotels in Indonesia and Vietnam, there are plans to do the same in Thailand and Malaysia this year to allow travelers to discover sustainable accommodations.

The power of partnerships: Thailand’s sustainable tourism can thrive with collaboration

Towards a common goal

The strength of these collaborations cannot be underestimated. For instance, Thailand’s Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration (DASTA) has been overseeing and developing sustainable tourism operations since 2003.

In October last year, the organization conducted a joint online Asia-Pacific-wide workshop with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Thammasat University, which included discussions on sustainable tourism. This helped to facilitate the development of action plans related to visitor management on the environmental front.

Such cooperation ties into the increasing role that PPPs are playing in the region when it comes to sustainable development. Asset World Corp, one of Thailand’s leading real estate firms, has joined forces with TAT and established frameworks and projects that positions sustainable tourism as a key driver of long-term economic growth.

What’s more, support from private companies provides significant financial support for public institutions that spent heavily on COVID-19 measures – in 2021, Thailand increased its public debt ceiling from 60 percent to 70 percent to allow the government to borrow more during the pandemic.

The power of partnerships: Thailand’s sustainable tourism can thrive with collaboration

Equal risk, equal return

However, for these PPPs to succeed, all parties must agree to bear the same level of risk and enjoy mutual returns. In fact, the World Bank has a list of PPP risks, which indicate that major pitfalls may not be that uncommon.

Sunk costs represent one of the greatest challenges, with scrapped projects like the Melaka Gateway in Malaysia offering a lesson to future collaborations. But as long as goals are aligned, there is reason to believe that PPPs can power sustainable tourism in Thailand.

With travel platforms at the forefront of travel recovery, partnering with the Thai government allows all stakeholders to continue playing a crucial role in promoting new tourism products and destinations, and connecting local industry players with global consumers.

Being part of the ecosystem also means the ability to analyze data and navigate the changing consumer demands to customize offerings, especially sustainable ones. By making sustainable travel options accessible through collaboration, Thailand can ride a green wave to stay ahead of the curve.


By Caesar Indra, President, Traveloka