By Kitchana Lersakvanitchakul
The Environmental Education Centre Thailand, an organisation set up by English-Thai actor Alexander Simon “Alex” Rendell to provide direct education on environmental conservation, is helping the Tourism of Thailand Authority “Go Local” by taking young people as well as their parents on camps in various parts of the country and getting the messages over through a host of fun activities.
“Go Local”, the TAT’s latest campaign, aims to promote 55 secondary tourist destinations nationwide while better balancing the distribution of tourist arrivals between urban and rural areas, evening out the seasonality factor between the months of travel, and encouraging more travel during weekdays to reduce pressure on the weekends. Its targets are young people, families and the so-called Generation Y.
“Gen Y refers to the young people who prefer to travel alone, or sometimes with friends or family members and use the social media to post and promote the beautiful tourist destinations they have discovered. Gen Y takes selfies and talks about their finds with others. These youngsters play an important role in attracting other generations to tourist destinations. This is the second year that we are focusing on tourism in the secondary provinces, and it is to these places that we would like Gen Y to travel, spend time in the communities and help keep the environment clean and safe. So we have joined with Alex, who is passionate about environmental protection, to encourage these young people to share his love for the environment and take care of nature,” says Somradee Chitchong, executive director of TAT’s northern region.
“People are travelling more than ever, and they are choosing to spend time either in forested areas or under the sea. Natural or green tourism industry is growing and scuba diving is now so popular that you have book a place on a boat well in advance. Social media has done a lot to promote the beauty of the waters off Thai shores and two of the top ten dive sites are in Thailand,” Alex adds.
“My aim is to build a platform that educates people about the environment, as I firmly believe that education is key to sustainable tourism. There are two groups of participants who are interested in our camps. The first is children who love nature and animals, and the second is the parents who sign up their kids for camps. That’s important because we don’t advertise the camps but rely on word of mouth,” he explains, adding that the partnership with TAT covers 15 camp activities and continues through September.
“I’m a single mother of two and am involved in the ‘New Generation Tourist Pays Attention to Environment’ campaign presented by Tik Jesdaporn,” says Somradee. “After taking part in a culture camp and a birdwatching camp, my kids lost interest in playing games on their mobile phones all the time. They had a great time at both camps and really enjoyed learning. I find they have a lot more self-discipline. Alex’s activities aren’t created just for children but also for parents and other adults. I think these activities help family relationships.”
Alex concurs. “One of our popular activities is the ‘Elephant in the Mist’ camp, where we take children walking along a nature trail in Khao Yai National Park in Nakhon Ratchasima and use instructional media for learning and analysing elephant housing and elephant saltlicks as well the history of relationships between pachyderms and man. We tell the kids to collect elephant dung and they analyse it under a microscope. Our experience shows that the youngsters develop emotional strength from this kind of outdoor activity and cultivate an environmental awareness that they will pass on to others. We also took children to a Moken village in the South and they were fascinated. They instinctively understood it was not the place to take selfies. Conservation isn’t only about the forest and sea but also about humanity.”
Set up slightly less than a year ago, Alex says he was inspired to create the Environmental Education Centre Thailand by his happy memories of some 18 years ago.
“When I was young, I got to know khru Alongkot Chukaew, an elephant expert and now a highly esteemed member of the EEC Thailand family. At that time, I went with him to the forest to help a wild elephant that had injured its leg. When we came back, we helped raise funds to purchase medications. When I grew up, I met khru Alongkot again and watched him use an elephant in the development of blind children with multiple disabilities. It was a lovely scene and made me determined to support elephant conservation. Then I had the idea of setting up a centre to educate people about conservation and as a stage to teach kids about giving. Now my aim is to mix environmental education with tourism,” he explains.
“The main focus is organising camps but we also want to promote environmental education through the social media and through collaborations with government and private organisations. We don’t expect all kids to be environmentalists but we hope to build a conscience about environmental protection. Some children tell us they want to become veterinarians or marine biologists, or maybe work with the UN. We try to help their dreams come true by facilitating innovative science camps,” he continues.
A certified divemaster, Alex instructs, tests and awards diving certificates and serves as the MC for other camps.
“With the number of celebrity influencers around, I think this year will see many more people take up scuba diving. It’s not hard to master and Thailand’s dive sites are too good to miss.”
Dig a little deeper
For more information about EEC and a schedule of upcoming camps, visit http://EECThailand.com/en/.