After a traumatic few years for travel, it’s been heartening to see Thailand fully reopen and to see visitors able to enjoy this amazing country once more. And as tourists return to Thailand it’s more important than ever to highlight the benefits of responsible tourism. In a nutshell, responsible tourism helps “make better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit“. The annual Responsible Thailand Awards recognises the individuals and businesses who are helping to achieve this.
Choosing the winners
The Responsible Thailand Awards are run by Wanderlust Travel Media on behalf of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (UK & Ireland). Wanderlust readers along with the UK travel trade are asked to nominate the Thailand-based organisations, resorts and individuals who have championed responsible tourism. Travel industry professionals form the judging panel. The judges assess how successful various projects have been and the benefits of these initiatives for Thai people and tourists.
The Responsible Thailand Awards 2022 were presented at the World Travel Market in London in November 2022. This year’s winners are listed below. If you’d like to find out more about previous winners and other ways you can support responsible tourism in Thailand, check out the links here.
Animal Welfare: Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai
Founded by Lek Chailert in the 1990s, Elephant Nature Park (ENP) in Chiang Mai is a sanctuary and rescue centre for dozens of distressed elephants from across Thailand. Despite the knock-on effects of the Covid pandemic, ENP continued to support not just the elephants, but also the local community by creating jobs and purchasing locally grown produce.
The herds at ENP include blind, orphaned, and mature elephants. The welfare of the animals is paramount with the award judges commending ENP for having four vets on site and for setting up the ‘Jumbo Express’ mobile clinic. The park also won praise for their elephant food bank and farm to herd initiatives.
Community-Based Tourism: Laem Sak Tourism Community Enterprise, Krabi
Community-based tourism is one of the best ways for travellers to experience Thai culture. There are lots of options to choose from in each region of Thailand, but the Responsible Thailand Award for 2022 goes to the community at Laem Sak in Krabi.
Looking out towards Phang Nga Bay, Laem Sak is a multi-cultural community which supports responsible tourism on Thailand’s southern Andaman Coast. The Tourism Community Enterprise comprises 400 members across 10 villages in the Laem Sak district. The enterprise encourages local people to protect the mangroves and marine ecosystem while allowing tourists to experience what makes this part of the Krabi coastline so special. Visitors can stay overnight in the area, go early morning fishing, island hopping, and learn about local culture.
Eco Lodge: The Tongsai Bay, Ko Samui
The Tongsai Bay hotel was established on Ko Samui in 1987. The resort has always been keen to promote sustainability and the Responsible Thailand Award judges singled out The Tongsai Bay’s “impressive Green Policy which encompasses so many aspects of sustainability … And we love the way guests are informed and educated on the issues, helping them to make the right choices.”
The owners of The Tongsai Bay have met with the founders of the Banyan Tree Group. With a similar ethos on sustainability, responsible tourism and community support, a new era has begun for the Samui hotel. The luxury resort is now known as Garrya Tongsai Bay Samui and will continue its work to protect the environment and promote sustainability.
Hotel: The Sarojin, Khao Lak
The winner of the Responsible Thailand Award 2022 in the hotel category is The Sarojin in Khao Lak. The Sarojin has always been at the forefront of sustainability and eco-tourism and that continued commitment was once again recognised by the judges who praised the hotel’s ‘One Booking One Tree’ initiative which launched in October 2022.
With The Sarojin planting at least one tree for every booking made, the hotel estimates that by the end of 2022, approximately 3,600 trees will have been planted. For 2023, The Sarojin forecast around 1,200 trees per month will be planted equating to an impressive figure of 14,400 trees in total.
Nature/Marine/Heritage: Big Blue Conservation, Ko Tao
Located in the Gulf of Thailand, the island of Ko Tao is one of the most popular destinations in Thailand for divers. And it is here on Ko Tao where the marine conservation initiative, Big Blue Conservation is based.
Big Blue has its own diving school, but also works with other dive businesses to ensure best practices are adhered to around the island’s reefs. Community involvement and education are all part of the conservation project, with Big Blue organising beach clean-ups, conducting marine research, and making tourists and locals aware of the importance of responsible tourism.
Green Steps: Gentle Giants
Gentle Giants was established as a non-profit NGO (non-governmental organisation) with the aim of giving captive elephants and their mahouts a better way of life. Gentle Giants partners with Save Elephant Foundation and the award panel were particularly impressed with their Gentle Giant Stay Home Project (GGSHP).
The project was launched during the height of Covid in June 2020. The aim is to facilitate the return of the elephants and the mahouts to their local communities. The advantages of GGSHP for the mahouts are they are still employed, earn a fair wage and can stay with their family. For the elephants, they are no longer forced to work and can roam freely in the forest with their herd, but still have the mahouts nearby to watch over their welfare.
Although this may all seem a relatively simple idea, the issues involved are extremely complex. Despite the obstacles, Gentle Giants Stay Home has already seen more than 100 elephants return safely to their villages.
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