Ecotourism gaining ground in Thailand

eco3Over 800,000 foreign tourists and more than two million Thais traveled on eco-tourism and adventure tourism trips in the Kingdom, spending over $10 billion last year, signaling the growing strength of that niche market within Thailand’s highly successful tourism industry, an association of Thai adventure tourism operators said last week.

Neeracha Wongmasa, the newly appointed president of the Thai Ecotourism and Adventure Travel Association (TEATA), said that ecotourism and community-based activities would be key to the sustainability of the overall tourism sector, in Thailand as well as in many other countries.

Thailand welcomed over 32 million tourists in 2016, a new record. The government and Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) are aiming for even higher growth this year, but some industry analysts have been questioning whether promoting mass tourism is the best and most sustainable strategy for the tourism sector in Thailand and other countries.

In response, the TAT has been working to develop niche tourism segments, such as eco-tourism and adventure tourism, along with medical tourism, spiritual tourism and other specialized approaches. The eco-tourism and adventure tourism categories are fairly recent developments, however, and the association and its businesses are still evolving and finding their way to some degree.

“My priority jobs are to develop ecotourism and adventure travel to meet with higher-level international standards along with improving internal management,” Neeracha said. “However, developing this segment requires strong cooperation among stakeholders as well as active TEATA members.”

The TEATA has about 80 members, most of which are located outside the capital of Bangkok. They offer everything from home stays in rural villages, to trekking and wildlife tours, bicycle tours, elephant safaris, kayaking, bird watching, Thai boxing training and rock climbing.

“Growing is not about the number of members, but [about each] member’s business. Members need to work and grow together,” Neeracha said. Her association, however, is expecting over one million eco-tourists and adventure tourists to visit the Kingdom this year and expects to contribute more than $10 billion in revenues.

Nonetheless, Neeracha said some of Thailand’s neighbors have been doing a better job of marketing their ecotourism and adventure tourism industries than Thailand has. In response she intends to step up her association’s marketing efforts.

Aside from greater participation in Thailand-based travel marts, shows and conventions, her association is considering attending tourism events in markets such as Europe.

“Ecotourism is expected to continue to account for 10-20 percent of the entire sector, but our niche products and stories can be developed and promoted to Thai and foreign tourists, and that can increase spending and length of stay,” Neeracha said.