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#PataSustain interviewed Dr. Andrew McLean, co-founder of the Human Elephant Learning Programs (H-ELP) foundation, an Australian organisation aiming to improve the welfare of working elephants in Asia. Since its foundation in 2010, H-ELP has grown significantly as Andrew’s systematic approach to elephant training is recognised as a viable and safe alternative to traditional submission-based methods. The following interview has been edited for clarity, flow, and length.

Dr. Andrew McLean – Credit: Ben Fulton-Gillon

Q: Thank you for your time today. To let the reader get familiar with who you are and what you do, can you tell us a little bit about your background and the road to H-ELP Foundation?  

A: How it all began for me was that I have been a horse trainer pretty much all my life as well as an academic and, in my PhD, I designed a more ethical way of training horses. I was working in Finland and a woman in Finland by the name Helena Telkanranta had been working on a WWF project in Nepal and inquired with various people to help her improve the foundation of elephant training. Eventually, she came to me when I was doing a clinic in Helsinki and it all started from there. She asked me if I’d like to come along and I said I’d love to be involved in elephant training, but I don’t know much about elephants. And it just happened that one of my wife’s pupils in dressage, Laurie Pond, was the elephant handler and trainer at the Melbourne Zoo so he said to me, come down, I’ll give you some hands-on experience – I did that and then I set off in 2007 for my first work in Nepal. There was also Tuire Kaimio involved in the project who was a very good positive reinforcement trainer and we combined forces.

The Department of Conservation in Nepal awarded us a forestry camp called Bardia in the southwest of Nepal as a pilot study. We asked for a pilot elephant and they ended up giving us a whole camp which had five young elephants to train. It was meant to be a five-year plan where we would demonstrate what we could do. By year four, they (the Department of Conservation) were so happy with it, that they decided to give us the go-ahead to roll it out in Nepal. We were still young and didn’t have enough in our group and didn’t have enough funding and India was asking for me as well, so I started the project off in India and I couldn’t really manage Nepal and India at the same time. Helena then formed her own group to manage the Nepalese side and I continued in the north and the south of India. From there, we had workshops for trainers and from many different neighbouring states in the north and south which allowed us to cover most of India.

These trainers implemented these programs after the workshops and were all monitored by the Wildlife Trust of India and so far as it’s been very successful. Of course, a few things slide because we’re not there all the time to help them but I ended up writing a book, like a manual, about elephant training and I think that’s been a bit of a deal breaker because people could then read the book and continue on and that book has been published in six different languages. So, we’ve also moved into Thailand, at the National Elephant Institute, and then Myanmar, with the Myanmar Timber Enterprises, because they are the biggest private owners of elephants in the world, they have over 3000, and then this year Laos. So, that’s how it all started.

  

Credit: Ben Fulton-Gillon

Q: Your background is in horse training, what are the similarities between horse and elephant training?

A: They’re very similar because when you train horses, or I should say elephants, you use operant conditioning which is a very ancient form of animal learning that doesn’t require great cognitive skills. Reinforcement can happen even subconsciously, so the similarities between the two species are enormous. All I really did when I went to Nepal for the first time was using the academic blueprint I’ve developed for horse training was to cross out the word horse and write elephant. Of course, there are different places on the elephant’s body where you stimulate the animal, but these signals are still tactile signals like they are with horses. The main difference is, of course, elephants have a trunk and so they can pick things up and use it effectively in so many ways and on top of that, elephants are more able to reason then horses. They show some high mental abilities. Although that doesn’t affect the operant conditioning very much, it does affect their reactions to many things. So, for example, what surprised me was, one time I was asking an elephant to sit, because we had already taught him to sit, but he wasn’t in a very comfortable place and just walked off and sat some distance away. So that’s what’s interesting about elephants, they have more insight into their behaviours than horses. I think it is because of the trunk. When you have a trunk, you need to be able to plan ahead and think back and have more retrieval mechanisms to memory than animals with no dexterity.

Credit: Ben Fulton-Gillon

Q: In your opinion, what are the common misconceptions about activities with elephants in tourism?

A: I think some activities with elephants are highly questionable and deceptive such as elephant painting. It is presented as if the elephants are painting these masterpieces, you know, painting trees, flowers and even other elephants, I mean, you can train an elephant to hold a paintbrush and tap it onto paper through reward, but they’re not the ones doing the painting, it’s the mahouts directing their trunks by holding the elephant‘s ears or skin.  What they do with the elephants is train them to hold the paintbrush in their trunk. They hold the paint brush out stiffly and the mahout moves their head and gives them little pressures up, down, left and right. So it’s really the mahout who does the painting. You never see an elephant just standing there painting a tree all by itself. With elephants holding flowers and things like that, my suspicion, and I have seen elephants do that in training, is that it’s quite coercively trained, and I can’t imagine that it is all done only with positive reinforcement. I was told by somebody quite reputable in Chiang Mai a few years ago that they sometimes use nails and other painful objects to make sure the elephant really moves his head in the correct way in order to make a painting. I would not buy such paintings.

Q: If you were to say something to those animal activists wanting to ban elephant riding, what would it be?

A: Elephant riding is certainly not any great benchmark of welfare because you can train an elephant to be ridden in the most ethical way. I see no problem with that, and that’s what our program does we improve training methods. Most of our work in India is focused on training forestry elephants that catch poachers in national parks and it has been enormously successful for the parks, in apprehending poachers and also making poachers very wary about going poaching. There’s a huge benefit in using elephants in that way. They are quiet in the forest, they go everywhere, they’re a great vehicle and you can even teach elephants to sniff out poachers because they’ve got the most amazing sense of smell. 

 

Credit: Ben Fulton-Gillon

My feeling about the riding is that if elephants were given limited hours and a limited payload, maybe only two people, limited numbers of days a week and weeks in a year, etc. and they are managed well and looked after the best way possible, including improving their saddlery (our H-ELP project is also investing in that) , I see no problem with riding elephants and I say it’s no different riding horses. Certainly, we can train the elephants to be ridden, in some parts of Asia we work with elephants in the middle of the jungle and they’re not restrained by ropes or chains, and yet the elephants are there voluntarily, and they will come back for each session over the course of our workshops. They don’t have a problem with a human on their back directing them, provided it is done ethically. When we’re having a break a for a cup of tea, they hang around or move off into the forest, and then they come back. It’s certainly not a horrible experience for them, but a violent foundation training as we still see in many parts of Asia, where the elephants are very coercively restrained and hurt until they don’t react anymore, that has got to stop. And if it doesn’t stop then elephant riding ought to be banned.

But if we are serious about welfare, I think we should be much more intelligent, in the way we look at elephant camps that are proud to say we don’t ride elephants and yet in many cases, the elephants have very bad diets and suffer internally because of that. Animals like elephants should be eating a lot of roughage, so feeding sugar cane and bananas to excess is very bad for their digestive system. If elephants don’t get enough exercise – they need between seven and 13 kilometres a day – that’s also bad for welfare. If they don’t have the ability to socialize with other elephants that’s bad for welfare too. We have done studies on this with horses where we’ve actually isolated all the elements of human interactions with horses and what we’ve shown is that it is the same thing. A well trained ridden animal with all the other things attended to, such as the proper diet, not overfeeding sugar, plenty of exercise and plenty of ability to socialize is a much better, happier animal.

Q: Earlier this year, jungle tour operators in Nepal demanded that the government come up with regulations with minimum conditions to be fulfilled for using elephants for tourism and wildlife conservation. From your scientific perspective, what are the minimum things that should be included in such?

A: There are basically four points – some of these are very minimal things for all animals. The absolute minimum things for welfare are the ability to move according to the species’ needs, foraging according to the species’ needs (and not just limited to sugar) and socialization. Being a social animal, being able to touch and handle other animals with their trunk is vital. The fourth one is the training that needs to be ethical and controllable from the animal’s point of view. We only use voice commands, positive reinforcement and very light touch signals and no punishment and that produces much happier elephants. It produces elephants that really want to be with you too. They are the benchmarks for welfare, those four things.

Q: Do you use any kind of tools in your training that mahouts would need to use later as well? Is it possible to train an elephant without using a hook, knife or any other sharp tools like nails?

A: Absolutely. There is no need for the hook. They should be put on walls like swords are now echoes of the past. I use a stick, because my arms are not long enough, and a stick gives you an extra meter. You can just tap the elephant on the bottom of the foot and say the word ‘back’ in whatever language and very quickly it learns that the word ‘back’ comes when it gets taped and then it learns to go back from the word back. We teach them the mobility from that and then we use positive reinforcement to reward the movements. So, when the elephant goes back, the chain of events we use in our training are – that we say the word and then we tap the part of the body. When their part of the body, e.g. the leg, moves, we immediately stop tapping and then we immediately also say ‘good boy’ in whatever language we’re using and then we deliver food after that. It follows this simple process and we will also give him some tactile reinforcement in between because I’m sure that it is as important for elephants as it is for horses. So there is absolutely no need for hooks, however you can’t simply take away mahouts hooks and not replace it with some form of training, we have seen that doing that simply introduces smaller concealed “hooks” like nails and sharp objects that get used in the same way.

  

Credit: Ben Fulton-Gillon

Q: In your opinion, what are the major challenges for elephant camps in Asia?

A: The major challenges are caused by the world’s reaction of people who don’t know enough of what they’re talking about, but they just love animals. They are saying we should not have any captive elephants and they should all be in the wild. Or they say they shouldn’t be ridden but its ok to feed them bad diets with little exercise and no socialization. What we need to do is, recognize that the Asian elephant now exists largely in captivity (unlike its African counterpart) and so we need to take care of these captive elephants better whilst protecting the ones left in the wild as their habitats have been decimated – they’re highly endangered in the wild. Their habitat is shrinking so rapidly because of human expansion and where they do exist in the wild, there is growing conflict with humans to say nothing of the increasing scourge of poaching. Also the profile of the wild population is unnatural. For example, we see unnatural numbers for various age cohorts and the male elephant is gradually disappearing altogether. In Myanmar, for example, which has a large number of elephants in the wild – there used to be 10,000, but now that is estimated to be less than 1800. These 1800 elephants only occupy the edge of their potential habitat because they are too afraid to go to the deep jungle because that’s when they get poached. The elephants move to the edges of the forest where there are human populations because they are a little bit safer there. It is a myth to think that we can just put all the captive elephants back into the forest. If we do that, we’re essentially exterminating them. We should look after the Asian elephants, recognize that many of them will remain in captivity, and we need to do the captivity as best as we possibly can.

Q: What can the tourism industry, in particular, do to help the Asian elephants?

A: The tourism industry needs to be really well audited and it should be accountable and sponsor audit programs because they make money out of elephants. If the elephant numbers are shrinking and people are still against elephants altogether, having bad welfare through feeding programs that are all wrong, is not in anyone’s interest. A proper audit would shake up the industry throughout Asia and that would be a great hope. The tourists’ dollars are important for the economy of many of these countries. It’s easy for the Westerners to say, just boycott it all, but that’s not fair in those countries. So, support the good industry and positive stamping elephant welfare.

Credit: Ben Fulton-Gillon

Q: Is there anything else you would like us to know, about yourself or the H-ELP Foundation?

A:  If anyone is interested in learning more, they should visit our website h-elp.org. In Australia, we have Deductible Gift Recipient Status that means that people can claim tax deductions if they donate to us. We are purely a not for profit charity, so all donations allow us to help more elephants in Asia. One other thing is, that, in Laos, we recently went to the Elephant Conservation Center. There, Michael Vogler and Prasop Tipprasert had a great motivation to do things right and I think that will be a future key centre for this type of approach. The elephants walk to where they get bathed which is seven kilometres away, which is good welfare. They are very careful about diet and now even more careful about how much tourist can feed these animals. They’re building a giant enclosure to house the elephants at night, so they’ll all be with each and properly socialize without being on chains. They are doing their absolute best to implement the training we gave them. It’s one of the few places we have seen that are striving to truly tick all boxes.

 

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White Men in Suits at ITB panels – part 2. Time to tackle the lack of diversity at tourism events

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by Marta Mills (oneplanetblog.com), sustainable tourism specialist and sustainability adviser for the Transcaucasian Trail

 

 

 

Exactly a year ago after ITB Berlin 2017, I wrote White Men in Suits and Sustainable Tourism for PATA’s Sustainability Blog, referring to the nationality, race and gender imbalance of speakers at ITB, but also at other conferences and events in the tourism industry. Has anything changed at ITB2018?

The only non-male panel at ITB CSR Day, 9 March 2018. Still pretty imbalanced.

This article is not meant to provide solutions but simply describe a status quo in relation to the inequality. And I have nothing against people wearing suits. But in this context, the suits represent the (mostly) white men who spend their time behind a desk in a city office block as opposed to working on the ground in tourism destinations. They know how to manage big tourism or airline companies, or are respected academics, but often have little practical knowledge that could then be worth sharing with destination practitioners during ITB panel discussions.

Quick look back at 2017

The whole CSR programme of events last year showed the lack of inclusiveness and balance, but there was one particular session (“How Can Sustainable Travel Offers Be Marketed Successfully?”) that prompted me to write. Seven white men in suits, six Germans and one English, discussing sustainability in tourism.  How ironic.

The “White Men in Suits” panel on sustainable travel at ITB 2017

I wanted (and still want) to find out who and how makes the final decision on the structure of the panels, and why there seem to be the same speakers year after year. Is it really that hard to find a women specialist, or someone from the southern hemisphere? Neither in 2017 nor in 2018 ITB responded to my questions.

Hopes for 2018

Considering a few significant events that sparked the worldwide debate on gender inequality – the Harvey Weinstein case of sexual abuse allegations, the #MeToo movement, now the most recent outrage at unequal pay at the BBC, to name a few – I hoped that the situation at ITB might change this year.

Also, in the written foreword to the  CSR Program, Rika Jean-François, the ITB CSR Commissioner, mentioned that in 2018, the tourism industry will have to deal with numerous challenges, including “gender inequality and discrimination due to sexual orientation (…) If we see how many seminars are still dominated by men, even in the sustainability sector, we must invite women to raise their voice – women are definitively carrying half of heaven on their shoulders”. Wise words. But…

 ITB 2018

Take the panelists for the CSR Program 2018. In Hall 4.1 (Responsible/Adventure Travel hall) on the Big Stage, there were 95 men and 44 women (7-9 March). Discussions in Halls 7.1 saw 78 men and 22 women. But during the ITB CSR Day (!) there were 16 male panelists and only one woman. Three out of four sessions had men-only panels. The last had five men and that one woman. All except two men were German, all were white. Er… Unbelievable?

At the end of this last session, its moderator Matthias Beyer who also moderated last year’s aforementioned “all-men-in-suits” session, pointed out that „one woman joining the panel this year is an improvement but certainly it is not satisfactory“.

Recycled speakers

And if we are comparing these both sessions moderated by Matthias:  three of the panellist were on both panels. That again made me think: who and how selects the panels for ITB? Is there a pool of “recycled speakers” that are always invited, based on some unwritten – or maybe written, somewhere – criteria? Surely, these speakers are experts in their area, but also, surely, there are so many others that never get approached. Why not? Do the organisers even want to go that extra step and go beyond the old, recycled bunch?

Matthias Beyer, Prof. Dr. Edgar Kreilkamp and Norbert Fiebig, participants of panels in 2017 and 2018

 “Others take the decision”

„In general, I totally agree with you that ITB panels require a much better balance in terms of race, nationality and gender“, Matthias Beyer said. I asked him whether he had any say in the selection of the speakers on his panels. „The influence for me as a moderator is limited. I can make suggestions but others take the decision. In 2018 my whole panel was fixed before I came into play“.

Can he refuse to moderate such imbalanced sessions? „To refuse a moderation is certainly an option but then you lose any influence. I prefer to remain involved and to try my very best to initiate and encourage changes“, he said.

OK, so „others take the decion“. That made me think, again, who …

ITB, wake up!

I want to emphasize again that the worldwide perspective doesn’t only come from the European, white middle-aged men in suits. Particularly during debates on supposedly more inclusive and fairer sustainable tourism. When will ITB, WTM and other big events start taking notice?

Does Rika have any impact on the composition of the panels, at least for the CSR Day? If not her, then who?

Hopes for 2019?

 Rika admitted that she was “totally aware of the unbalanced number of female and male speakers at the ITB Convention. I can assure you that I am also trying to change this and as CSR commissioner have discussed the phenomena also with our teams and the relevant co-organizers and scientific directors”.  She added: “You can be sure that I will work on it and readdress it again and again. This is one reason why I initiated the Gender Equality Seminar during ITB 2018 -as a start of a new series. We will support the dialogue and we will keep on going.”

 One seminar is a step in the right direction, but it is a tiny drop in the ocean. I’d like to see more inclusion and more diversity on other panels that not necessarily devoted to gender equality! Is it so much to ask to have a mix across the board to discuss a variety of topics, so this issue of imbalance and inequality doesn’t draw attention and it is not an issue anymore?

Let’s see if I am here this time next year, complaining about white European men in suits at ITB 2019.

Disclaimer: The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author(s) and those providing comments on these blogs are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) or any employee thereof. We make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability or validity of any information presented by individual authors and/or commenters on our blogs and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries or damages arising from its display or use.

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Interview with Małgorzata Then, CEO, Biotrem

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email interview with Małgorzata Then, CEO, Biotrem


Q: Hi Małgorzata, nice to meet you. So tell us, what is Biotrem? What kinds of products do you offer?

A: Biotrem is a Polish technology company developing an innovative production process of bio-based tableware and packaging. The patented technology allows us to manufacture a biodegradable disposable tableware from sustainable organic raw materials, such as wheat bran, corn bran, cassava by-products, seaweed or even algae.

Biotrem’s main product line is fully biodegradable disposable tableware produced from the compressed wheat bran. Our offer also includes cutlery made from a mix of PLA bioplastic and wheat bran.

Q: How did this idea come about?

A: Our unique production process was invented almost two decades ago by Mr. Jerzy Wysocki, whose family’s milling traditions date back to the beginning of the twentieth century. Mr. Wysocki was researching a better application for wheat bran, a by-product in the grain milling process, other than animal feed or compost. His research resulted in the production process fuelling today’s Biotrem production plant.

 

Q: Does food taste different when it’s on Biotrem tableware?

A: Our tableware, made out of compressed natural wheat bran, is perfect for serving hot and cold dishes. In case of longer contact with liquid meals – especially with hot soups – the smell or taste of bran may slightly penetrate the meal, but it’s not an unpleasant feeling. It reminds me of freshly baked bread.

Q: How is Biotrem more environmentally friendly than the alternative? How is Biotrem a solution to our waste problem?

A: Disposable products, made from wheat bran, are an excellent alternative to most of disposable tableware, i.e. made from plastic or paper, the production of which has a heavy and negative impact on the environment.

From 1 ton of pure, edible wheat bran – which is a by-product in the grain milling process – we can produce around 10,000 plates or bowls. What’s more important, our products are fully biodegradable and compostable within just 30 days.

Q: What about costs? Why should I buy Biotrem vs. other alternatives?

A: Actually, price-wise our products are on the same level as most of other bio-based disposable products. We should be aware that many of so-called eco-products is fact aren’t so much environmentally friendly. In many cases the organic material they are made out of requires processing involving large amounts of water, chemicals and energy.

The beauty of our innovative production process lies in the fact that it enables the use of unprocessed organic material, most often by-products in the agricultural or food industry.

 

Q: How can we tell the difference between your products and those that aren’t processed in an environmentally friendly way?

Well, being a conscious consumer requires some ­– at least – basic knowledge about how things are made and what are they made of. It really helps you make good and responsible choices.

Let’s take a paper cup as an example. You could say that since it’s made out of paper – an organic material that is biodegradable – it probably is an environmentally friendly product. or at least less harmful that a plastic cup. But then you must realize that paper is made out of trees; that the paper industry utilizes huge amounts of water, chemicals and energy; that a paper cup or plate can’t be made out of recycled paper – it always must be a fresh, clean paper; that a cup or a plate used to serve food can’t be recycled; and finally, that a paper cup or plate is able to withstand liquids because its surface is coated with a thin plastic or wax film, which makes it hardly recyclable or biodegradable.

As a responsible company, we commissioned an independent institute to conduct the Life-Cycle Assessment study for our products, which, among other things, proved that one (1) kilogram of wheat bran product generates in total – considering the whole wheat cultivation process, transportation, processing and utilisation – around 1.3 kg of CO2, meanwhile the functionally comparable mass of widely used polystyrene disposable plates or cups generates in total around 8.5 kg of CO2.

A comparative study of the impact on the environment, human life and natural resources is unequivocally in favour of the wheat bran product – for most categories the result is about 60% lower than for plastic-based products. That is a huge difference.

Q: What markets is Biotrem in currently? How do you aim to expand?

A: So far Biotrem has managed to build an effective distribution network across the Europe. Currently, we are expanding our sales and distribution on other continents – North and South Americas, Asia, Australia, Africa. Our business development is also supported by intense marketing and advertising campaigns.

 

Q: Who are your customers and what has been the reception from them so far? How are your products relevant to the tourism and hospitality industry?

A: So far, our largest clients are the caterers, organisers of large events, music festivals, live shows and wholesalers. The tourism and hospitality industry is also very interested in our products. We are receiving a lot of inquiries from holiday resorts, especially those located on tropical islands, where waste management is expensive and has a negative impact on the natural environment.

With the development of sales channels, supported by intense marketing campaigns, we hope to reach also end customers. We are already observing their huge interest in our products.

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Interview with Mallika Naguran, Publisher and Managing Editor, Gaia Discovery and Gaia Guide

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email interview with Mallika Naguran, Publisher and Managing Editor, Gaia Discovery and Gaia Guide

  1. Hi Mallika! The tables have turned! You do a lot of interviewing, now it’s time for someone to interview you! To start things off, tell us a little bit about your road to Gaia Discovery.

It sure has! Thank you for this opportunity to tell my story. I spent the initial years of my career in publishing and public relations working in both the private and public sectors. At that time, while raising my two children, I was in the telecommunications and IT industry. After more than a decade, tired of being a corporate slave, I switched to being a freelance writer with a number of travel and lifestyle publications. As I traveled to write, I saw that development for tourism often took its toll on the environment and society. However few publications at that time wanted that kind of story. The prettier the scenery, the better the story it seemed. I was troubled. When the awareness of climate change was at its peak, with Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth documentary released, I felt concerned and asked myself what my response should be to environmental issues. It dawned on me that I could start a publication that focused on sustainable tourism and living, and decided to keep it online so as to avoid using paper material. That’s how Gaia Discovery began, and that was in 2008. This interview is timely as we approach our tenth anniversary and have a good following from readers worldwide.

 

  1. Where does the name Gaia come from? What inspired it?

My features editor Jeremy Torr suggested the name Gaia when we were thinking of a name for the online publication. I decided to research into the name, and was rather taken in after reading Dr. James Lovelock’s The Revenge of Gaia where he explained the Gaia Hypothesis. In his book he warned how the delicate balance of nature within the synergistic and self-regulating Earth could be upset if any of the major organic or inorganic elements was out of sorts with the other. His friend and author William Golding who wrote Lord of the Flies was the one to suggest to James Lovelock that he could name his hypothesis after Gaia, the Greek Goddess of Earth. To most people today, Gaia is understood as simply Mother Earth. Gaia Discovery’s name was inspired by this theory as the editorial focuses on conserving the balance of nature and sustainable development.

 

  1. What is your favourite part about working with Gaia Discovery?

Telling a good story and from the heart. I love to come across genuine people with extraordinary accomplishments. I like giving such people exposure so that others can read about what they do so as to learn or be inspired. Gaia Discovery has a People section where we have featured hoteliers, tour operators, scientists, environmentalists and so on. We like to break new stories under the Planet section where we cover a range of environmental topics from energy, water, waste, ecology to reforestation. In featuring tourism, we review responsibly run resorts and destinations under Places section. Nothing thrills me more than meeting an operator who is passionate about sustainability and builds a memorable eco-resort or boosts the livelihoods of communities against all odds. So it is in meeting the unexpected that I cherish about the job.

 

  1. Do you have any areas within sustainable tourism that you are particularly excited about? If so, what are they and why?

I like to see ground up action in implementing sustainability. These can be individuals taking it upon themselves to find or provide solutions to the many environmental problems we see in tourism, travel and food and beverage industry. One good example is in Bali where like-minded businesses are brought together by the individual Alex Tsuk and being mobilized to introduce concrete solutions. I had just written about this. This is the BookGreener community of businesses mostly in Ubud of Bali where they get together monthly to discuss issues, share information, lend a hand, help train each other’s staff in permaculture, for instance, and be part of the critical waste management solution on the island by having refillable water stations at their hotels, resorts or restaurants. No government organization is part of this—just ordinary people taking action themselves and most of them are businesses that are potentially competitors too.

Book Greener’s RefillMyBottle scheme, which is to connect tourists to businesses that supply drinking water through an app and map

  1. How do you hope to pass this excitement along to the consumer?

As far as Gaia Discovery goes, we try to create compelling stories with images and videos to follow. That way I hope readers get excited and are persuaded to alter their mindset or change their behavior. Another way is to reach out to our readers with the hope of engaging them and connecting them with sustainable businesses. Often this is done through reader promotions and contests. Having said that, it is often in the doing, seeing and being there that one can truly experience impactful journeys. So my hope is that readers will travel to the places they read about in Gaia Discovery and support the eco-sensitive businesses that we feature.

 

  1. In your opinion, what are some of the challenges we face in getting the consumer to be more responsible? What are the gaps that need to be filled?

There needs to be some holding back on social media messaging during travel as there is just too much of that, which makes the subject appear superficial, losing conservation messages as photos get ‘liked’ and re-posted. Instagrammers, for instance, have brought ruin to pristine areas of nature and introduced greater human traffic to sensitive or age-old places. Some examples are the 15th century ruins of Machu Picchu (a whopping 1.2 million people visited this UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014!), The Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen (vandalism struck twice), Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Areas (age old mossy pathways trodden out). How about retaining images in the head rather than photographing or taking videos all the time? Nature needs to be experienced and understood, not just be photographed.

 

I think more can be done to educate tourists on responsible actions and a good opportunity for businesses to do so is to post information on their website as well as to send an email to their customers in the form of an advisory on what is expected of them in visiting a national park, historical monument or culturally-sensitive village.

 

There is also a need for travelers to spread themselves out and in different seasons so as to lessen the load on highly visited places. This is partly the job of the tourism authority to manage numbers for safer carrying capacity.

 

Responsible travelers should also remember that visiting a place should really be a two-way experience in terms of information exchange. As much as travelers wish to gain knowledge of the place they visit, they could also share with the proprietor or guide or hosts what they experience back home or elsewhere.

 

Finally, waste. Tourists should keep their impact to the minimum and that includes avoiding buying items that have lots of packaging and single use plastics.

 

  1. What do you see as some of the trends for sustainable tourism in 2018?

More community-based tourism are springing up that strive to be authentic in nature and meaningful in facilitating deeper understanding of foreign cultures often with interactive activities (cooking, basic gardening, starting a fire in the jungle as survival skill) and such examples can be found in Lupa Masa of Sabah and SaveAGram homestays in the villages of India. In some of these cases, some investment goes into developing guest houses and basic infrastructure to cater to tourism activities.

Yoga activity at SaveAGram’s homestay in Kerala

I also see Gen Y stepping forward as savvy tour operators who organise refreshing yet low impact tours that revolve around nature discovery or wildlife encounter or adventure holidays underpinned by responsible tourism ethos such as Wise Steps Travel in Indonesia. Also, young lodge or resort owners tie in spiritual activities to appeal to the younger or alternative traveler that seeks quieter, nature-oriented or spiritual stays. Often this is tied to natural and healing programmes that go with freshly harvested and chemical free produce that are cooked and served in the lodge. This appeals to the Gen Y travelers, health conscious tourists and single female travelers—and there are a lot of them.

Ayu Masita, co-founder Wise Steps Travel

 

The third trend I see is this: more and more destination managers are taking matters into their hands such as over crowding to reverse tourism’ negative impacts on their historical buildings, heritage areas and natural attractions. Euromonitor projects that by 2020 the top 20 visited countries will add an additional 121 million inbound visitor arrivals to the 992 million arrivals in 2016. Growth is also forecasted; according to the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), international tourist arrivals will grow 3.3 percent a year from 2010 to 2030 to more than 1.8 billion arrivals. The report also highlighted that tourism tends to be uneven within countries—some places are packed while others could do with some tourism attention. In 2016 and 2017, cities (e.g. Ljubljana City of Slovenia), regions (Region Västerbotten, Northern Sweden and Mekong region) and states (e.g. Indonesia, Kerala of India, Thailand) have put in place strategies and guidelines for greater sustainability, prepare businesses for better tourism management and to spread out tourism revenues to other areas. Indonesia is serious on improving its tourism image through capacity building in a number of its states by putting in place Sustainable Tourism Destination Standards recognized by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. So we are seeing increasing commitment in the drive towards sustainability not just at the business level but also at the destination level. This will continue in the next decade as tourism continues to grow exponentially thanks to better (and cheaper) transport, greater connectivity, higher affluence and increasing desire to see new places.

 

  1. What tips do you have for our readers to live a more eco lifestyle?

To readers I say, plan your travel to keep waste generation as low as possible when you pack your luggage. It may not be completely possible to travel as a zero waste tourist, but it can be close if you put your mind to it. Having traveled a lot, I realize that to be successful in minimizing waste on the go, some prior planning and packing is required: plan where to stay such as resorts that promote ecological practices and sound waste management; pack an eco-bag within your suitcase that contains the following: a reusable drinking water container, a sealable mug for coffee takeaways, plate or bowl, fork, spoon, knife, chopsticks (utensils made out of bamboo for instance), handkerchiefs/hand towels, biodegradable bags (try PicknBin that also has wet wipes) for non-recyclable waste disposal, reusable shopping bag and biodegradable soap. Pack another flat reusable bag to contain your rubbish especially recyclable items when you travel to areas that do not have recycling facilities. These bags can then go into the suitcase and be transported to the nearest recycle bin when you come across it. I made a video of myself retaining plastic water bottles after attending Sarawak’s iconic Rainforest World Music Festival where I demonstrated how they can be flattened and packed away in a suitcase. You can watch it here.

 

 

I also think that responsible travelers should pose questions about waste management to hotel staff and local grocers to get a good idea of what happens to rubbish and to get discussions going. It only takes a spark to get the fire going and consumers have the power to effect change by vocalising their wants and concerns. Leave feedback and write letters if you come across unsustainable practices.

 

 

 

 

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Interview with Javad Hatami, CMO & Co-founder, Optishower

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email interview with Javad Hatami, CMO & Co-founder, Optishower

1.    In 2-3 sentences, what is your product, what does it do? What is your elevator pitch?

Optishower integrated solution helps hotels achieve operational excellence, decrease water and electricity consumption, and ensure the highest levels of guest satisfaction. We use IoT-based smart sensors to monitor water and electricity in buildings; engage and motivate guest to reduce the utility consumption by gamification techniques.

2.    Where did your inspiration for this idea come from? 

It was started from a friendly discussion between two co-founders.  Me and Mohamamdhossein, very close friend of mine and the co-founder of Optishower, were both avid travelers. We’ve been to many countries and usually we stayed in hotels during our travels. The idea came from the observation about high levels of water that was wasted in bathrooms and once someone enters a hotel they usually don’t care about the consumption. We found that 1) guests don’t know about their consumption and 2) they don’t know how they can help environment and avoid unnecessary consumption, 3) and most importantly, they don’t have any incentive to do so.  We found there is not any tailored solution for hospitality sector to tackle these challenges. It was the begging of our journey to create Optishower.

 

3.    Why should hotels be interested? 

Our solution could benefits hotels in 3 different ways:

1)      Optishower technology supports hotels to benchmark the current status of their buildings in terms of consumption and find out any bottlenecks to implement more efficient and sustainable technologies. Optishower could also help hotels to achieve their Corporate Social Responsibility goals in terms of Sustainable Responsible Operations.

2)      Finding leakages in big buildings is hard and time consuming. Our technology can detect any leakage in water pipes and abnormalities in electrical system of building, thus it saves money and time for hoteliers to avoid any damages and losses.

3)       Optishower platform connects guests to their consumption. We use gamification techniques to engage guests with their water and electricity consumption in-room. Therefore, this technology could be used as a new feature to transform in-room guest experience. Moreover, reduction in utility consumption leads to increase in profit margins of hotels.

 

4.    What are some of the initial results you are seeing?

Once our technology is implemented, it can provide lots of data and insights about status of consumption in hotels. Our technology makes utility consumption visible and easily understandable. The recent result from our pilot test in Marriott Amsterdam demonstrated that if guests know about their consumption, they were more conscious and could make more smart choice of water and electricity usage in rooms. We found behavior change is a key component to leverage sustainability status in hotels.

 

5.    What is your vision for this technology/app? What does success look like to you?

Our aim is consumption behavior change through user engagement. We aim to provide data and insight to hotel guests mixed with gamification techniques, so they can make better and smarter consumption decisions.  On the other hand, we aim to provide a platform that makes life easier and more convenient for hoteliers. We are envisioning a system that is an integral part of each hotel and provides visibility on all corners of water and electricity consumption in the hotel. Success for us means developing a solution that makes the lives of hotel guests easier and more comfortable, and provides new and seamless experiences that also positively contributes to environment.

 

6.    What is the role of tech in sustainability for the hospitality industry? 

Technology plays an important role in achieving sustainability goals in hospitality. New technologies that help hotels’ business become resource efficient can both create a competitive cost advantage and further reinforce brand focus on sustainability at the same time. This investment can be profitable and resonate the brand in the heart of customers. For example, new technologies that drives environmentally friendly atmosphere can have positive impact on guest experience. At the end of day, what the guest feels and thinks about the hotel experience leaves an impression with the guest that has a direct impact on occupancy and ADR.

 

7.    What have been your biggest challenges?

As a tech start up that wanted to disrupt travel and hospitality sector, our main challenge was to understand the major pain in the hospitality sector and to craft an innovative and wining solution for that. We looked to the hospitality sector and found that sustainability is still a luxury word; everyone talks about it, but nobody wants to implement it. We looked to the current solutions that exist and found that most, if not all, of them are technology-based and lack active end-user engagement. It took some time for us to find a way to connect tech with social and economic behavior strategies to craft a specific solution that deals with sustainability challenges in the hospitality sector.

 

8.    What is your prediction for the future of hotels, particularly in terms of sustainability and guest engagement? 

There is a visible trend in the travel and hospitality market that guests prefer sustainable tourism as a requirement in their travel. Personalization also would be a key component of future hotel service. The hotel of the future offers new and diverse experiences that can evolve with the guest. If you want to have a hotel that is sustainable and provides personalized service, you need clear engagement with your guest regarding your sustainability activities. I believe tech and behavior science are helping at that stage to provide innovative solutions that transform the guest experience. Hotels of the future would integrate sustainability as their core elements from hotel design to operation, therefore technology will bring innovative environmentally-friendly solutions to provide seamless experiences for guests in the future.

 

9.    In your opinion, what should the sustainable guest experience look like? 

I believe the trend in the travel industry where sustainability is an important concern is increasing. There are statistics and surveys demonstrating that more and more guests are booking green and eco-friendly hotels.  Sustainable design offers such travelers a place where they can feel comfortable spending their time and money. These environmentally conscious travelers likely expect sustainability efforts in the design of rooms, reducing waste, saving water and promoting green activities in operation, energy-efficient appliances, recycling programs and gluten-free meals, at the very least. Recent advances in technology made it possible to re-design hotels according to green practices. Hospitality is always about experience and connecting people. Environment influences behavior and mindset, and guests are sensitive to small things in their surrounding that change their mood. For example, rooms with new designs that enjoy lots of natural sunlight is more likely to be perceived as energizing and inspiring. To offer a sustainable guest experience, hoteliers should think about innovative ideas that combines suitability with new experiences. As an example, lamps that are energy efficient yet offers a relaxing environment for guests would create a memorable and authentic experience for guests during their stay in a hotel.

10. Anything else you’d like the reader to know about yourself or Optishower? 

Optishower is a Portuguese brand offering an innovative platform for the hospitality sector with a very disrupting idea that incorporates elements from tech to social behavior. As a young tech start up in the travel industry, we believe proactive engagement of guests is a key to achieve sustainability in the hospitality sector. Recently, our disruptive idea has grabbed the attention of Marriott hotels and we have been selected from around 150 applicants from 24 countries to pilot our technology, as part of Marriott test bed acceleration program, in Marriott Amsterdam.

 

 

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Bangkok’s Fight Against Plastic Waste

Categories: Blog Posts, Southeast, Waste
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by Juliane Little, Account Executive, Precious Plastics Bangkok

 

 

 

 

 

Did you know that plastic doesn’t actually decompose? Over time it’ll start to break down into smaller pieces called microplastics; however, it’ll never fully be removed from our planet.

So how do we expect to tackle this ever-growing issue about plastic waste? While there is no short or easy answer, there are steps we can begin to take towards a brighter, better future.

Let me first introduce myself… My name is Juliane Little and I’m an expat, who has lived in Thailand for just over 2 years now. It was my love for adventure, the ocean, and beauty that brought me all the way from the USA to this beautiful country. Within a short few months, I started to notice there is a huge issue with plastic consumption and recycling in Thailand. This plastic waste comes in all shapes and sizes and is used by teachers, construction workers, people on holiday and even by myself.

Plastic is the ultimate convenience. It’s cheap to make and buy, it’s extremely versatile, and it’s strong. All of these benefits make it easy to forget the potential harm one straw or bottle cap can actually do. We assume that once we dispose if it, it magically disappears. However, we are starting to realize the harsh truth and it’s coming back to bite us (quite literally). Our oceans and lands are being overrun with waste, and animals have turned to plastic as a source of food. There are already traces of plastic in the fish that we are consuming. Scientists have even predicted that by the year 2050 – there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish (by weight).

Ocean Marina, Pattaya, Thailand

After some random web searching, I came across a plastic recycling project, which I immediately thought, “this is what Bangkok needs, this is what the world needs.” I’ve found that many people don’t get involved in volunteer work or conservation efforts, because they don’t know where to start. Trust me – it’s hard, especially living in a foreign country!

Thanks to Dave Hakkens, that is about to change.

Precious Plastics is a project created by Dave Hakkens, which helps people around the world set up their own local plastic workshops. Hakkens’ open source website gives A to Z instructions on how to build all the machines needed to break down plastic and turn it into something new. The possibilities are endless and the creativity doesn’t end on their website. The hope of this project is to encourage upcycling and provide an educational work place for the community.

I have decided to tackle the project and create a Previous Plastics workshop here in Bangkok. Our mission for the Bangkok workshop is to educate the community on plastic waste and consumption. We would achieve this by holding workshops around how to properly use our recycling machines and turn plastic back it back into raw material. This can then be used to create new tools and objects for use and even to sell. During these workshops we will provide tips on avoiding one-time use plastic and lowering your plastic waste footprint! Once you are properly trained on safety and usage, you’ll have free access to the workshop where you are able to upcycle whatever you can think of.

While this project is in its initial stages, we have already had a lot of positive feedback from the community and people who are eager to support in anyway possible. Our next step is to build the machines and find them a temporary home.

If you are interested in getting involved, please reach out to me personally or follow us on Facebook! What we need the most are people who are passionate about saving the planet and reducing plastic pollution. There are many steps we need to take to get this project off the ground and I would love to have you join our team. Feel free to follow the page for updates on our project and also tips to becoming more eco-friendly.

Through the Precious Plastic’s Bangkok Project, I hope to spread more awareness of plastic pollution and give back to the community. Join our cause and let’s get one step closer to a greener, healthier planet.

Disclaimer: The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author(s) and those providing comments on these blogs are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) or any employee thereof. We make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability or validity of any information presented by individual authors and/or commenters on our blogs and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries or damages arising from its display or use.

 

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How to grow your business and give back to the marine environment using the Green Fins Handbook

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by JJ Harvey, Operations Manager, Reef-World Foundation

 

 

 

 

 

The modern traveller is not what they used to be. The game has changed and competition amongst businesses is as high as it has ever been. In a similar situation to people applying for work they need to have a CV that stands above the rest, something that has that wow factor or provides an edge on the competition. The same can be said within the tourism industry, where hotels and resorts need to be more than just current with the latest trends, they need to be thinking ahead and predicting what their guests might like, want or need. Nowadays there are standard facilities which are expected by guests and tourists such as a door key card or WiFi Internet which needs to be fast to prevent disappointment and frustration leading to the modern day phenomenon of what can only be described as ‘buffer face.’

Then there are those businesses that are leading the pack and coming out with innovations and new approaches that provide their business with those all-important reviews to keep those customers returning. When you look at these businesses there is a common theme within those that are leading pack. These are the businesses that are not only reducing their impact on the marine environment but are actually contributing to it in a positive manner. It is not enough to be able to have a digital readout near the check-in desk of the amount of CO2 that has been offset from the photovoltaic panels that adorn the roof top. Leading businesses in the tourism industry need to show, either by involving their guests or somehow exposing to them the ways in which their holiday has helped positively contribute to the very environment in which they have come to see in the first place.

When it is time for guests to check out of their hotel or resort and head home, they want to be able to leave with a sense of fulfilment and feeling like that they have got great value for their money. In addition to this, they want to know that they have not negatively contributed to the demise of the local environment. Nothing could be worse than a holiday maker sitting in their seat on the aeroplane on their flight home and feeling that if they come back it won’t be the same. We have all overheard countless conversations of people on holiday referring to places they have been to in the past and saying “well it isn’t the same now of course.”

This is because many places succumb to overdevelopment, beautiful landscapes that have been cleared to make way for more and more rooms, paths and trails that have been overused bereft of wildlife or perhaps a coastline with beaches that have become full of cigarette butts or empty plastic bottles. The likelihood of that tourists returning to such places is low. This is not a good business plan.

Leading businesses need to have that a wow factor that pulls in guests so that they or their friends come back year on year. This is where being able to positively contribute to the environment can result in the environment giving back to the business. A environment that is thriving can lead to a simple return on their investment such as getting free marketing through social media snaps online promoting your business and location for you. Nothing sells your business better than a smiling tourist with a pristine natural environment on Instagram or Facebook. They not only do it better than you can but it costs you nothing! #thankyouverymuch

The marine tourism industry is a perfect example of this. Divers and snorkelers have high expectations and are easily put off a location on their first trip if they don’t see what they should. They will quite happily go somewhere else with their charged GoPros in their endless pursuit of making their friends jealous. Corals that are teeming with fish, clear waters with no floating plastic and a curious turtle that isn’t afraid of people are the perfect examples of what people have on their holiday tick list.

Hotels and resorts that provide marine tourism attractions such as SCUBA diving and snorkelling excursions are often not aware of the simple things that they could do to ensure they are doing the best they can so that they aren’t negatively harming the very environment that they rely on. A simple example of this is that most managers have never checked what their staff are cleaning their boats with. Marine toilets, the outside hull, on-board sinks, guest seating areas and other areas are often regularly cleaned with household cleaning products that are not designed for the marine environment. Chemical cleaning products that have bleach or anti-bacterial agents in them can have serious consequences for fish and corals. Coastal environments in tourist hotspots are already under a significant level of impact from development and run-off and direct inputs from chemical cleaning agents are an unnecessary addition that leads to fish and other marine life being driven away. This can result in guests who might not even get in the water but instead will just watch from the dry safety of the pontoon or pool edge might not see this free’ wow’ factor. A missed opportunity.

In much the same way that managers and business owners look to educate themselves or their team on how they can get a leading edge in marketing through online tutorials or searching the web for some insider business knowledge to provide them with tips and tricks, there is a unique solution for marine tourism business owners from the Green Fins initiative. Green Fins is on the crest of the wave when it comes to unique approaches to conserving coral reefs. The approach helps to unite politics and marine conservation efforts to ensure the sustainability of popular diving destinations around the world. Established through a partnership between the United Nations Environment Programme and The Reef-World Foundation, Green Fins uses a proven three-pronged approach; green certifications of dive centres, strengthening regulations, and environmental education for dive staff, divers and governments. Over 450 dive and snorkel operators across eight countries have signed up for free membership, and are using Green Fins as a platform to set examples of sustainable business operations. Participating members are awarded a certificate based on annual assessments that is co-signed by the national government, the United Nations, and The Reef-World Foundation.

To fill the gap for the other countries that do not have a trained national Green Fins team that can provide onsite training and certification of the business, the team behind Green Fins have developed a handbook based on 10 years of experience for businesses to download. The solutions to common issues such as waste management, recycling and how to train your staff to prevent damage to the marine environment have been collated and developed into an online guide. This Dive and Snorkel Centre Operational Handbook has links to short training videos, pictures and downloadable attractive multi-lingual posters that are easily accessed. Using a 15 point Code of Conduct developed by the UN and endorsed by PATA, this step by step guide provides simple tips and tricks that can be implemented at a range of businesses whether it is a large chain with over 100 dive centres or a small business that provides occasional snorkel tours.

This handbook was developed in response to the huge demand from diving and snorkel centre managers and owners who were looking for a comprehensive yet simple and realistic guide on business practices and practical solutions that can help the marine environment cope with the increasing levels of tourists. There is the added benefit that scientific studies have shown such businesses practices that put the environment first before revenue generation lead to destinations that are better equipped to withstand the impacts of climate change. For example, coral reefs that are visited by SCUBA diving businesses that follow best practice are far less likely to bleach or become diseased during extended warm periods.

The Green Fins Handbook can be purchased via the Green Fins website for only $25. If you want to know more or want to contact them directly, you can email info[at]greenfins.net.

Disclaimer: The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author(s) and those providing comments on these blogs are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) or any employee thereof. We make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability or validity of any information presented by individual authors and/or commenters on our blogs and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries or damages arising from its display or use.

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 By Michelle Groothedde, Associate Intern Sustainability & Social Responsibility, Pacific Asia Travel Association.

In Doi Inthanon National park, about 90 kilometres from Chiang Mai, in the North of Thailand, two communities, Pha Mon and Mae Klang Luang, both ethnic Karen communities, have worked in community based tourism for 11 and 18 years respectively. On a mini field trip we visited the two villages that are only 30 minutes apart and looked at the differences between them regarding history, product range, management, experience, and target markets. The villages are beautifully located in the mountains surrounded by stunning rice fields. 

The trip was organised in order to learn from CBT in Thailand for the Myanmar CBT Network. The Myanmar Community-Based Tourism Network was set up in March 2016 as a joint initiative of Tourism Transparency and ActionAid and is an informal network that provides a platform of exchange for interested stakeholders, such as travel agents/tour operators, tour guides, NGOs, communities, and government.

 

 

Community based tourism (CBT) means that tourists visit a local community, which is often located in rural and well-preserved areas, to get a rich and engaging experience of a local community’s traditional cultures and way of life. The community benefits from CBT by getting that little bit of extra income that can be used for various things, such as support in education, construction, environmental projects, and medical care. CBT is a real challenge for these communities as they struggle with cultural differences between themselves and tourists, and the changes and fear of losing their culture and identity that tourism brings.

Pha Mon 

Pha Mon is home to about 600 Karen people and earns approximately 1,000,000 Baht per year from CBT. Pha Mon is located 30 minutes off the main road, which makes it secluded. They offer a high value and high price experience. Their main target market are French tourists as they have established a long-term partnership with a French tour operator, Thailande Autrement, who was looking for a local community partner to further develop their cultural programmes. Pha Mon occasionally receives Thai visitors but mostly for day visits.

 

 

The average stay in Pha Mon is 3 day and 2 nights. Tourists arrive at Pha Mon village in the late afternoon, after which they are welcomed by the CBT village coordinator and have dinner. The next day the guide takes them for a walk through the village to learn about the village and its culture. They are taken around the fields, as the main source of income for both villages is agriculture and in both villages, agriculture comes before tourism, especially when it is time to harvest and all farmers are needed on the field. The Royal Project has had quite a big impact on CBT in the village and has helped to provide more income to farmers since it started.

 

 

Tourists have the chance to buy souvenirs in the form of crafted items like woven bags, traditional clothes, and baskets directly from the lady weavers. They can watch the weavers at work and can even have a go at the weaving themselves. They also learn about different food and fruits while visiting the village and villagers often invite tourists to taste and have a look around. At specific times a year the village offers traditional ceremonies performed in their paddies on the hillside during which they carry baskets with bright flowers. This is also an initiative supported by the Royal Project. After the visit to the village, the tourists can then hike to the top of Doi Thenon, which usually lasts about 2-3 hours. On this trail guests can do bird watching as this area is home to many different types of birds. There are also possibilities to do cycling tours on the mountain tracks.

 

 

 

The Pink Bamboo House 

The accommodation Pha Mon offers is called the Pink Bamboo House.

The Pink Bamboo House is located a short distance from the village surrounded by stunning rice fields with the mountains in the background. The community built the Pink Bamboo House itself and did an incredible job. It has 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms with a large balcony on the first floor spanning the length of the house, inviting you to relax and enjoy the amazing views. There are beautiful little details visible in the house such as bamboo towel holders (there are many bamboo household items in the house that the construction men weaved in themselves), comfortable Thai mats to relax, and a bamboo hammock on the ground floor and it really shows the level of detail and love put into the construction of this house.

 

 

The Pink Bamboo House offers a high value and high price experience to the tourists. The house is earning the village over 1,000,000 THB per year, which is about US$30,000 and there are approximately 140 families that participated in the construction of it. The villagers mostly offer their labour in exchange for a share. The earnings from the Pink Bamboo House go to a community fund, which is used for education, environmental activities, small construction, house maintenance, and to help people in the village.

 

 

In addition to the extra income, there are more reasons for Pho Mon to engage in CBT practices. First of all, the village wants to show tourists how Karen people live in harmony with the forest and demonstrate their sustainable forest practices. They also want to teach them the local ways and culture of the village and believe it is a way of motivating community members to work together.

 

Lunch is served, all homegrown produce.

The direct benefits from community-based tourism in the village are obvious as it creates more income and more jobs, but what are the challenges?

 

Overcoming the different opinions and fears about CBT and to decide if the village wants to invite tourists to their village was the initial problem and will probably remain an issue for some time. CBT inevitably brings changes and especially the older generation is worried that their traditional culture and way of living will change in a negative way or even disappear completely. Because of the extra income CBT generates for the village, the younger generation now attends school and often university in Chiang Mai. After their studies, young adults are encouraged to come back to the village but often find it hard to find their way in the old lifestyle again. They bring modernisation to the village and the older generation doesn’t know how to manage or deal with that and believes that tourism just accelerates the problem.

 

Tomatoes grown at the village

 

Then there are some problems with communication to outside parties and organisations they work with, or that have an influence on CBT in the village. These include the national park, the government, the Royal Project, tour operators, tourists, and the Community Development Organisation. The community’s culture is the initial reason the village attracts tourists and that is what they want to display but it is sometimes difficult for the village to make outside organisations understand their norms, values and way of living. Tourists are often unaware of their expected behaviour in the village, for example, about dress code when outside the house. Villagers were often shocked when visitors would wear revealing clothes and sunbathe on the balcony. The inappropriateness of this can be difficult to communicate because of language barriers. 

 

Our tour guide for the day: local tour guide Surasit

 

The CBT village committee tries to counteract these challenges through communication and activities that help to mitigate these challenges, such as educating local guides, tourists, and villagers about different cultures and raising awareness on both sides.

 

Mae Klang Luang

 

Mae Klang Luang has a population of approximately 700 people and earns about the same amount of money per year as Pha Mon, but only by accepting larger groups at a cheaper price. Annually, an estimated 10,000 people visit the village; about 70% of them are day visitors, only 30% stay overnight and then mostly during winter season. It is noticeable that 95% of the visitors are Thai. More and more Thai students spend a night or two in the CBT village, enjoying the peace and quiet of their surroundings and the scenic environment outside the village. Mae Klang Luang is located at the entrance of Doi Intanon National Park close to the main road, which facilitates visitor flows in comparison with the more secluded Pha Mon.

 

One of the CBT houses in Mae Klang Luang.

 

For 18 years, Mae Klang Luang has been inviting tourists to stay in their community. Initially 20 villagers were involved in the CBT project and it has now developed to 80 people being involved, including people from outside communities investing in the project. The village has 11 homestay houses that are part of the CBT group, and there are also some independent houses for private homestay. Like Pha Mon, the money derived from CBT is mostly used within the village. All the CBT houses have similar prices, although the independent houses have set their own.

Tourist activities include a walk through the village, taking pictures in the new bamboo hut (specifically constructed to accommodate tourists who want to get a closer look at the rice paddies without destroying them), do a coffee tasting and then have the chance to buy the coffee. They also visit the women’s group that works together in custom weaving and tourists can buy those products as well. Mae Klang Luang is also known for its walking trail through beautiful scenery to a scenic waterfall.

 

The new bamboo hut constructed to avoid damaging the rice paddies.

 

What are the challenges in Mae Klang Luang?

 

The biggest challenge here is the same as in Pha Mon, namely, changes in culture. There have been significant changes in the village because of CBT and people in the village have different opinions on CBT and are sometimes struggling to manage it. Mae Klang Luang is different to Pha Mon because of its location and accessibility, and therefore CBT in Mae Klang Luang has grown rapidly and continues to grow. While Pha Mon only accommodates a small number of tourists, Mae Klang Luang offers a range of different accommodations and accommodates mainly day visitors. Therefore, CBT has a bigger and more visible impact in this village and is more dependent on tourism.

 

Another big challenge that Mae Klang Luang may face in the future is the competition between the private homestays and the CBT group. Initially, the independent houses were working well together with the CBT houses, but that is changing. There are more often conflicts between the two parties because the independent houses set their own prices. Managing two different systems like this is difficult. While the CBT group has clear rules and regulations and aims to contribute to the community through its community fund, independent homestays apparently tend to reduce their contribution due to the high individual cost. This complicates fairly and easily distributing benefits arising from tourism.

 

The chief of Mae Klang Luang is telling us about CBT in the village, Surasit is translating from Thai to English. 

 

Finding a balance

Pha Mon and Mae Klang Luang face both similar and different challenges doing community based tourism in the villages while having similar ways to address these challenges.

First of all, both villages have a management system in place, which is led by an elected group of people that organise every aspect of CBT in the villages. The idea is that CBT brings benefits to the overall community. The group has a coordinator who acts as a spokesperson and functions as a link between the village and outside organisations. Both villages hold monthly or 2-monthly meetings and all issues that may arise are addressed. Anybody in the village can raise concerns and the issues are then dealt with. In Pha Mon, profit is distributed as a set percentage system. Mae Klang Luang has a similar system and committee. This management system helps to keep track of all activities and income related to CBT and aims to distribute income fairly and equally.

 

 

There is now an excellent communication system, both internal and external, which makes the CBT experience better for everybody. Key to the long-term success of CBT in these villages is that the villagers themselves hold all control. There are many organisations trying to pressure and influence CBT activities but in the end all decisions go through the CBT management group in the village. The strength of the village is their united front as every member of the community counts and have a voice. Issues are addressed and discussed and they decide on the best possible solution by compromising. These villages are a best practice example of CBT that benefits both community and tourist. Tourism improves living standards of the community in the village while maintaining their culture and the natural environment. Tourists benefit from the environmental and cultural activities the village offers to give them a rich and deep understanding of the village’s culture in a responsible way.

 

Learning about CBT in Mae Klang Luang.

 

In a way they are stuck between authenticity and development and the key is to find a balance between the two to benefit from it and move forward, without losing their identity. It was hard for some people to accept CBT but the true values of the villages are still very evident and treasured, which is what makes them so special. Tourism can have a destructing effect on destinations after their discovery because of increased popularity but by controlling each and every decision based on integrity instead of monetary benefits, the effect of tourism in these villages is minimal, which benefits the village as well as the tourist as they can continue to experience a true and authentic Thai village in the mountains.

 

If you are interested in visiting either Pha Mon or Mae Klang Luang, or want to know more about the CBT network, click on the links. Learn more about the people on this field trip by clicking the links below: 

 

From left to right: Surasit Donjaipraiwan from Inthanon Dek Doi, local guide who is ex-coordinator of the Phamon CBT group Peter Richards, co-founder of the Thailand Community Based Tourism Institute (CBT-I), Michelle Groothedde, PATA Associate Intern Sustainability & Social Responsibility, Barbara Schott, Tourism Transparency, and Potjana Suansri,  former CBT-I director, CBT pioneer in Thailand, volunteering on this field trip.

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Travel with Social Good in Nepal’s Community Homestays

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by Sudan Budathoki, Senior Office -Online Branding & Communication, Royal Mountain Travel, on behalf of CommunityHomestay.com

 

 

 

 

 

While luxurious hotels with all the mod-cons can be a lavish way to travel, with travelers interested in getting to know local people and exploring different cultures, some may find this a limiting way of experiencing a country. If you’ve seen the inside of one generic hotel, you’ve pretty much seen them all. But the Community Homestay Program, an initiative of Royal Mountain Travel, co-operating with multiple native communities of Nepal, offers an innovative and unique service for travelers wanting a comfortable place to sleep as well as local flavor, warm hospitality and the chance to see and experience things not otherwise accessible to tourists.

CommunityHomestay.com is a network of community homestays in Nepal, with the objective to empower women of vulnerable communities, preserving Nepalese ancient culture and traditions, supporting local business, and creating a memorable vacation for travelers visiting community Homestays.

Interaction with international cultures

Currently, the network envelops twelve community homestays from all over the Nepal. To become a family in the Community Homestay Network, a community is suggested to come forward with at least ten families (houses) to host guests. The homestay program recommends and prefers women to lead the project. Once the application is submitted, administration officers of CommunityHomestay.com pay their visit to the respective community. If a community meets the guidelines, CommunityHomestay.com begins promoting that community in the national and international travel industry. But, if a community does not meet the requirements, CommunityHomestay.com takes every possible measure to make a community competent to host guests. From a fund raising program (to maintain houses) to hospitality courses, from the English language learning classes and health and sanitation awareness, CommunityHomestay.com supports a community by every reasonable means. Once a community is comfortable to host guests, they are requested to reserve some certain amount of revenue to eradicate a social issue or to support a social situation. This is to say, not only a host family shall witness the benefits of community homestay, but eventually an entire community shall gain the positive impacts of responsible tourism.

One such example is Panauti Community Homestay. Like every other community homestay in the network, this homestay is a women-led project in a small town of Panauti, 32 kilometers outside the Kathmandu Valley. In 2009, 10 housewives and Royal Mountain Travel ventured for this very first project. In the initial days, housewives, who later became successful entrepreneurs, were shy and showed a lack of confidence to host foreign guests into their houses. They were concerned if a guest would not like the poor infrastructure of their houses or a guest would not like their home-cooked food or they would not be able to communicate with guests in a foreign language. Most of the housewives of Panauti Homestay are uneducated, and there was an urgent need to encourage them. Royal Mountain Travel provided training to these housewives regarding hospitality, service management, and gave English language learning classes. Royal Mountain also provided an idea and supported the houses to re-build toilets and bathrooms. Gradually, the owners/housewives began hosting guests in their houses. As every guest who visited their Homestay showed their tremendous support to housewives/owners of Panauti Community Homestay, the concept of community homestay came to an existence to empower women from every vulnerable community of Nepal.

 

Women of Panauti

Now the women of Panauti are full of confidence. The housewives are earning well, in some cases, more than their husbands. They can afford to send their children to better schools and their husbands are proud and happy for their wives’ success. With growing success, Panauti Community Homestay installed solar panel energy displaying their support for the natural energy. Once the kids of Panauti would chase a traveler for chocolates, now they communicate with guests in the English language and help lost travelers, if they spot one. A certain amount of revenue, generated from the homestay project, is set aside to support widowed women of Panauti; supporting financially to sponsor their children for education. The same revenue is also used to build a community hall, where younger generation are learning to play traditional Newari (ethnic) music, which was almost extinct.

Panauti Town

Such a success story has not limited its passion only to Panauti, rather it has encouraged other women from different communities to come forward to establish homestays. Other homestays in the Community Homestay Network are following the same principle. Women are in charge of other homestay projects, and so far it seems to be the fact that if a mother in a house becomes stronger, an entire family becomes stronger. If mothers of a community are stronger, the entire community sees only prosperity.

Disclaimer: The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author(s) and those providing comments on these blogs are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) or any employee thereof. We make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability or validity of any information presented by individual authors and/or commenters on our blogs and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries or damages arising from its display or use.

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Some businesses may feel threatened by the sharing (collaborative) economy but it is time for our society to change its view on the importance of owning ‘things’.

The UN Sustainable Development Goal 12 (SDG12) focuses on ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns. With this in mind, we need to consider sharing a little more and owning a little less to help us achieve this goal.

According to the UN, the world population is projected to reach 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100. When I think of these numbers, I worry about the increasing amount of jobs, food, water and energy needed, as well as the increasing amount of waste that will be created. I worry about the increased number of people moving from farmlands to cities and the pressure that it will create on transport, city infrastructure and living quarters.

I was raised in a society that prides itself on owning things. Having a house in the city, a house in the countryside, a car or two, music and movies were not only norms – they were expectations. The more you owned, the higher your perceived status. Although it may still be like this in many places around the world, I am happy to see the younger generation behaving differently and taking advantage of newly available sharing services.

It took several generations to realise that owning a second house that you use only 10-20 percent of the time, or a vehicle that you only drive occasionally, makes little sense financially. Think of all the ‘things’ that may now be shared. Your house, car, boat, bicycle and sports equipment such as surfboard and skis that you seldom use.

Perhaps you have already disposed of your DVDs, books and CDs. After all, it’s so easy to watch movies on Netflix, read books on a Kindle, and listen to your favourite music on Spotify.

Think of all the ‘things’ you currently own that could be shared. For example, you can now provide access to your idling computer power (CPU) for scientific research (www.climateprediction.net). The designer evening dress you paid thousands for and will only wear once may be shared with others (www.covetella.com). Art management isn’t about subscribing to online collections, but rather having art collections that can be shared among members. Instead of investing in an expensive art collection you can now subscribe to one (www.artmgt.com).

We can all start to significantly reduce what we own while retaining access to more than we ever had before. It’s a phenomenon that will spread to almost every item with varying speeds. It may take one or two generations for our society to change its view towards the ownership of ‘things’ but I believe strongly that, in order to sustain a population of 11.2 billion people, we must reduce our footprint on the planet.

Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej showed remarkable vision when he introduced the ‘sufficiency economy’ philosophy to the country. This is a philosophy that many developed nations should learn from and implement if they wish to secure a sustainable future.

It’s never too late for spring cleaning and for you to donate what you may no longer use to others who may still find those items useful.

Till next time,
Mario Hardy
Chief Executive Officer
Pacific Asia Travel Association

– See more at: http://www.pata.org/share-world-ensure-sustainable-future/#sthash.Lm879tpU.dpuf

 

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