Across the world, there is an increasing awareness about responsible tourism. But what exactly is responsible tourism? In a nutshell, responsible tourism can be defined as “Making better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit”.
The broad definition of responsible tourism also covers sustainable tourism and ecotourism. The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), defines ecotourism as, “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.”
When you are on holiday, being a responsible tourist means respecting the rights and needs of all those who support your holiday. It also means that local people who live and work in the destinations you visit should benefit from tourism. Check our selection of 21 ways you can be a responsible tourist on your next trip to Thailand.
1) Respect Thai culture
At the very heart of being a responsible tourist is respect. Not just respect for the environment, but respect for the local people and their culture. You don’t have to understand all the subtle nuances of Thai culture (and nor will you be expected to), but if you learn some of the basic Thailand do’s and don’ts it will be appreciated by your hosts and also help make your stay more enjoyable.
2) Religious etiquette
With Thailand being a predominantly Buddhist country (around 95% of the Thai population are Buddhist), it’s important to be aware of etiquette when visiting Thai temples. While Buddhism is the main religion in Thailand, it isn’t the only one. In some areas of Southern Thailand, Islam is the main religion. Wherever you visit in Thailand, if you respect all religions and local customs it will be appreciated by your hosts and the respect you show will be reciprocated.
3) Learn some basic Thai
Learning at least a few basic words or phrases can be a great ice-breaker. Nobody will expect you to speak perfect Thai, but by being willing to speak at least a few words establishes good intent and shows that you appreciate the local culture.
4) Community based tourism
Community based tourism (CBT) initiatives can be found in every region of Thailand. Managed and owned by the community for the community, CBT projects are an ideal way to support local communities while also enhancing your own appreciation of Thailand and Thai culture. Various CBT projects are being helped as part of Thailand’s Village to the World project. You can also check out the CBT locations below for more ideas:
- Chiang Mai: Baan Rai Kong Khing
- Chiang Mai: Mae Kampong
- Ko Chang: Ban Salak Khok
- Mae Hong Son: Ban Muang Pam
- Ranong: Baan Talae Nok
- Samut Sakhon: Ban Don Kai Dee
- Samut Songkhram: Ban Bang Phlap
- Sukhothai: Ban Na Ton Chan
- Trat: Ban Nam Chiao
5) Eat local
One of the easiest and most enjoyable ways of supporting local businesses is to eat and drink locally at independently run restaurants or street stalls. Very often these are family run enterprises and when you spend your Thai baht at places like this, it not only gives you an authentic experience compared to a generic chain restaurant, but helps to keep money in the local economy.
6) Support local artisans
Shopping locally is another easy way to be a responsible tourist. At markets across Thailand you can find local products (including OTOP goods) which have been hand-made by artisans in Thailand. They make fabulous souvenirs to take home or to keep for yourself as a memento of your travels in Thailand.
7) Use responsible tour operators
When booking tours or day trips, check to see if the tour operator has a sustainable/responsible tourism policy in place. There is an increasing move towards responsible and sustainable travel in Thailand, and this is likely to be more important than ever in a post-Covid world. The companies below are just a small selection of those which support responsible and sustainable tourism in Thailand:
8) Trash Hero
Trash Hero is a volunteer-led group with a number of chapters around Thailand. If you’d like to give back a little while you are on holiday in Thailand and have some fun at the same time, check out the location of Trash Hero activities on their Facebook page. Trash Hero also runs an excellent bottles and bags scheme which encourages the use of refillable water bottles and reusable shopping bags.
9) Say no to the straw
Saying no to plastic straws is another easy, but simple way to support responsible tourism. Some hotels and restaurants in Thailand have already stopped using straws or have switched to metal or bamboo alternatives. And if you keep your own reusable straw with you in your daypack, you can also politely decline the straw when you order a fresh coconut or fruit shake from a street vendor. If you want to go a step further, you can ask the vendor to pour the fruit shake into your own reusable flask or mug instead of a plastic cup.
10) Reusable tote bags
Cutting down on the use of plastic bags is one area where Thailand has seen big improvements in recent years. As part of the “Every Day Say No to Plastic Bags” campaign, many retail outlets in Thailand, including the ubiquitous 7-Eleven, now encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable tote bags. Be sure to pack one in your luggage or buy them from a local market in Thailand.
11) No single-use plastics at National Parks
Since 2018, single-use plastics have been banned at all of Thailand’s National Parks. Straws, disposable cutlery, and disposable food containers made of plastic or styrofoam are not permitted.
12) Bring your own water bottle
Bringing your own refillable water bottle is another simple, but effective way to cut down on plastic waste and support responsible tourism. Although you shouldn’t drink tap water in Thailand, there are a number of locations, including Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport, where you can refill your bottle for free with safe drinking water. Trash Hero also has a system in place where you can refill your water bottle. And all around Thailand there are water machines that use reverse osmosis where you can top up your refillable water bottles cheaply.
13) Ethical elephant experiences
The issue of elephants in tourism is emotive. It’s also complex. Fan Club Thailand encourages you to do your research before visiting any elephant facility. Read our advice here about visiting an ethical elephant sanctuary in Thailand.
14) Don’t feed wildlife
Although it can be tempting to feed fish when you are on a boat tour or snorkelling trip, please don’t. If a tour company is truly responsible, they should not allow this. The ocean ecosystem is delicate. Feeding food which isn’t natural to fish is not only bad for the fish, but also has an adverse knock-on effect on the entire reef system. If fish eat food from people instead of their natural food, the algae blooms. And with more algae there is less light and oxygen for the coral.
Don’t feed wildlife also applies to monkeys. Unfortunately, Thailand doesn’t always help itself in this respect with some venues openly selling ‘monkey food’ to unwitting tourists. Although monkeys can appear cheeky, these are still wild animals that can and do bite and shouldn’t be fed by tourists. When monkeys rely on people for food, it has a detrimental effect on their health. It also brings monkeys nearer to people’s homes and businesses and results in human-wildlife conflicts.
15) Protect marine life
If you’re snorkelling or diving in Thailand, the ideal solution is to cover up and use appropriate sun-safe clothing. That may not always be practical if you are on a snorkelling day trip so if you are using sunscreen, look for one that not only offers you protection, but which is also ‘reef safe’. And of course, don’t touch or stand on the coral.
Although Thailand still has much work to do, there are more rubbish bins set up for recycling. Initiatives like Upcycling the Oceans are helping by collecting and processing marine debris and rubbish found at sea so it can be utilised on shore.
As a visitor to Thailand you can help by setting a good example by recycling rubbish wherever possible. And if your hotel or guest house doesn’t have a recycling point, politely ask where the nearest place is.
17) Observe signs
Thailand is a tolerant and generally easy-going country to visit and if there is a sign asking visitors to not do something, it’s there for a reason. It could be a sign asking you not to enter a particular area of a temple, or a sign at a waterfall saying no climbing. Don’t be that person who ignores the signs for a photo opportunity.
18) Dress appropriately
We know Thailand is hot and can be very humid at times, but please dress appropriately for the surroundings. If you’re walking around in the city or away from the beach, it’s not polite for men to go bare-chested or women to be wearing bikinis.
19) Look for hotels and guest houses that support responsible tourism
It’s good to see more and more hotels in Thailand supporting responsible tourism. When you are thinking about where to stay, check to see if the hotel has a responsible or sustainable tourism policy in place. Alternatively, look at staying at family-run guest houses or small hotels where your money directly supports local people.
On Ko Samui, Tongsai Bay and Banyan Tree are both doing commendable work. Over on the Andaman Coast, the Phuket Marriott Resort & Spa Merlin Beach employs full-time conservation experts, and The Sarojin in Khao Lak works with the local community to ensure the economic benefits of tourism helps local people. And on Phi Phi, the Phi Phi Island Village Beach Resort has established an excellent Marine Discovery Centre and a range of activities for eco-conscious guests.
In Khao Sok, the fabulous Elephant Hills resort has been described as, “a model for how a luxury travel experience can also educate and conserve.” Also in Khao Sok, Anurak Community Lodge is part of the local community and wherever possible employs local people and supports businesses in the Khao Sok area.
20) Appreciate the staff at your hotel
It’s nice to be nice. Support the people who are helping you have a wonderful holiday. Smile and be polite to the staff at your hotel. Although Thai people will not always leave a tip, one area where they often make an exception is at hotels. Leaving a small tip for the hotel cleaning staff or drivers and porters is a gesture that will be appreciated. You can tip the housekeeping staff by leaving some small change (15-20 Baht ) each day your room is cleaned. Leave the money on top of the pillow. This simple act of appreciation can make a real difference to that member of staff and their family who are part of the local community.
21) Enjoy the benefits of slow travel
Try not to rush through Thailand to tick destinations or tourist attractions off a list. Enjoy the benefits of slow travel and make more meaningful connections with the people you meet. Travel off the beaten track and discover another side to Thailand and Thai culture.
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