As the world finally begins to focus on promoting sustainability and environmental considerations, travel and tourism are sectors that have received a certain amount of attention, writes Danny Young.
There is a wealth of information online which is aimed at promoting sustainable and responsible tourism, offering helpful advice on ways to travel and organising which travel agents and tour operators offer environmentally-friendly trips.
However, this article has been created to provide specific advice for travellers visiting Thailand. A popular tourist spot for holidaymakers and backpackers, almost 25 million travellers visited Thailand in 2013 alone, according to statistics published by the Thai Ministry Department of Tourism. However, in cities like Bangkok, often credited as one of the most polluted places in Asia, the opportunities for tourists to help the cause are numerous.
The positive impact of tourism is undeniable. Like all popular tourist destinations, Thailand has a booming hospitality and leisure industry. What’s more, the World Travel and Tourism Council identified that in 2013, 12.4% of jobs in Thailand were part of the tourism industry.
However, the negative consequences of heavy tourist footfall in any nation are equally inescapable. If you’re choosing to visiting the amazing Land of Smiles, discover how you could be more responsible in your exploration of this magical country.
How to get there
One of the biggest challenges for governments around the world is the task of offsetting the carbon footprint produced by flying. One way this is achieved is by promoting carbon offsetting to passengers.
Some airlines, including Virgin Australia, working under the programme outlined by the Australian government, highlight this as an additional option to passengers making a booking. Take a look at the carbon-neutral factsheet which the airline offers to its customers, to get a better understanding of the concept behind carbon neutral flying.
Virgin Australia operates routes to Thailand from a selection of Australian cities, although other airlines from around the world are adopting this strategy, including United Airlines and British Airways.
Your role in Thailand
Once you arrive in Thailand, it’s worth considering what you’ll be doing during your stay, besides soaking up the beautiful culture.
There is a wealth of volunteering opportunities available, with everything from teaching to conservation work with animals open to enthusiastic volunteers. Though most people secure a volunteer position before they depart, situations are constantly changed and positions open up regularly.
Thailand is part of the ASEAN community, a group of 10 Asia countries which was created in 1967 to promote unity and trade between the nations. The official language of this union is English and as a result, there are many opportunities throughout Asia for English teachers on both long and short-term positions. Not all schools require teaching experience or qualifications, especially in rural areas where native speakers are unusual visitors, and you stand a good chance of securing a position if you can show evidence of having a bachelor’s degree. Ajarn.com lists some available positions.
Teaching is by no means the only chance to experience working with Thai people and local communities. VolunteerThailand.org offers volunteer placements for people interested in working in children’s homes, assisting with the construction of houses and gardens for under-privileged families, or working with the country’s animal population.
Where to stay
If you’re travelling to Thailand purely with the intention of relaxing and unwinding, you’ll still be able to contribute to the efforts to reduce carbon emissions and damage to the environment. Eco-friendly hotels are springing up around the world and provide a great base from which to explore to new destination responsibly. Often making use of technology that reduces water and energy consumption, as well as focusing on local produce and labour in the running of the hotel, such establishments are becoming increasingly popular with conscious travellers.
Don’t assume that you’ll be spending two weeks living in a tent or wooden shack either. Options like the Fern Paradise Resort, just outside of Chiang Mai, combine luxury accommodation in the style of a boutique hotel, with innovative solutions such as alternative energy sources and food recycling, to offset the damage of tourism to the environment.
Rural destinations such as this are popular with walkers and hikers, although again, this provides an opportunity to engage in sustainable tourism. Lots of trek organisers work in co-operation with conservation authorities and foundations, such as the Asian Elephant Foundation, to help travellers do their bit for the local wildlife during their stay. Take a look at TigerTrailThailand.com; in addition to working with such organisations, the company also honours a strict responsible travel policy, which strives to conserve natural resources and have a positive impact on the environment.
Responsible travel isn’t just about respecting the country that you’re visiting. It’s also about making a valuable contribution to the environment and the nation, even if you’re visiting for a short time.
Danny Young is the features editor for online electronics retailer Ebuyer.com. His work focuses on technology, travel and industry events. As a journalism graduate from Sheffield Hallam University in 2011, Danny went on to work with a number of organisations including the BBC, Sony, the Commonwealth Games and the Times of India.