The worldwide Covid-19 pandemic has left an indelible impression on the tourist industry. And in countries like Thailand, where tourism is such a large contributor to the economy, the effects have been especially far-reaching. But Thailand is bouncing back and safely reopening to tourists. Although it may be a number of years before worldwide travel gets back to pre-Covid levels, the crisis has been viewed as an opportunity to encourage more responsible travel and help “make better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit“. The Responsible Thailand Awards shine a light on the individuals and businesses who are helping to achieve this.
Winners of the Responsible Thailand Awards 2021
The winners of the Responsible Thailand Awards 2021 were announced in an online event on 8 December 2021. The awards are run by Wanderlust Travel Media on behalf of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (UK & Ireland). In another challenging year for tourism, the Responsible Thailand Awards 2021 introduced the Pandemic Heroes award to recognise those who have gone above and beyond to help their staff, local community and the environment.
Selecting the winners
Earlier in 2021, Wanderlust readers and the UK travel trade were asked to nominate the Thailand-based organisations and resorts that they felt were most deserving of recognition for their green initiatives and efforts to promote sustainable tourism. The criteria for judging included the sustainability of each of the projects and organisations, their demonstrable successes, and the legacy of benefits for both Thai and international visitors.
Pandemic Heroes: Save Elephant Foundation
Elephant centres across Thailand rely on visitors for the revenue that supports the upkeep of the elephants and staff. When Thailand closed her borders to tourists, it had a massive impact on elephant facilities throughout Thailand.
Founded by Lek Chailert, Save Elephant Foundation provided support during the pandemic for as many elephants and their mahouts as possible. This included establishing an elephant food bank, elephant foster programs, and retraining people who worked with elephants so they were still able to earn an income during the crisis. Save Elephant Foundation have also been proactive in showing elephant centres and mahouts an ethical alternative for the future of elephant tourism in Thailand.
Helping Thailand’s elephants through the Covid-19 pandemic
Runner-up: The Tuk Tuk Club
Despite the problems for their own business, Bruce Haxton and his team at The Tuk Tuk Club prioritised helping their local community. Bruce also undertook a gruelling bicycle challenge across Thailand to raise money and awareness for MaeVang Elephant Home.
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Community-based tourism: Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary
Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary (KSES) were worthy winners of the award in 2020 and were once more recognised for the fantastic work they do with the local community and the elephants they care for in the Mae Chaem district of Chiang Mai.
In normal times, there is a village homestay and when tourists were unable to visit, Kindred Spirit fundraised to provide income for the community and continued to offer free English lessons at the local school for children and villagers. KSES founders Kerri McCrea and Sombat Wirakhwamdee also set up an online store to allow the local women to sell their traditional Karen weaving products.
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Animal welfare: Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary
Kindred Spirit is a shining example of how to run an ethical elephant sanctuary and deservedly won the award for animal welfare to go with the one for community-based tourism. Their aim is to bring elephants back to the forest and during the pandemic they have not only cared for their own rescue elephants, but have also supported dozens of other elephants in Chiang Mai. The fundraising drive by KSES has enabled the elephants to be fed and receive veterinary care. Recognising the outstanding work of Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary, the judges of the Responsible Thailand Awards said they have “shown great commitment in this time of adversity and should be applauded for working collaboratively with elephant owners to improve the lives of all elephants.”
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Runner Up: Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation and Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort
Eco lodge/hotel: Khaolak Merlin
Situated on a picturesque stretch of coastline in Phang Nga province to the north of Phuket, Khaolak Merlin Resort wins at the Responsible Thailand Awards for the second year running. The hotel is at the forefront of conservation in the Khao Lak area and continues to lead the way with their sustainability projects and the way they support the local community. With overseas tourism restricted in 2021, Khaolak Merlin focused on the domestic market with PR and marketing activities demonstrating the positive advantages of sustainability and responsible tourism.
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Hotel: Meliá Ko Samui
Located on Choeng Mon Beach in Ko Samui, Meliá opened in January 2020, The luxury hotel has signed the UNESCO Sustainable Tourism Pledge and is committed to reducing plastic waste, supporting local culture and communities, and promoting sustainable travel in Thailand. The Responsible Thailand judges said, “It’s all very well talking the talk, but this hotel is walking the walk too. They have a huge range of initiatives to work towards their goal of a plastic-free hotel and have a green committee which meets regularly. Guests are made aware of the initiatives, and an elephant mascot, Coco, educates children about the plight of rescue elephants.”
Runner-Up: Paresa Resort, Phuket
Green steps: Path DMC
Path DMC is a destination management company (DMC) who works with partners across Asia. As part of their ecotourism drive, Path DMC have introduced carbon offsetting using destination specific calculators to accurately calculate carbon footprints. This means they can offer carbon neutral trips in Thailand with offsets invested in community-based renewable energy projects. In their comment applauding Path DMC, the judges said, “This ticks so many boxes, creating carbon-neutral trips, off-setting carbon use and encouraging guilt-free sustainable tourism. It’s a tech-based and very timely solution which will ultimately help local communities too.“
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