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With 22 million tourists annually, Thailand is Asia’s top tourism destination after China and Malaysia.
Travellers come for the beaches, the good accommodation, and the bustle of Bangkok. Beyond the glitzier hotels and beachfront resorts, however, there are also 700 homestay businesses all over Thailand, some of them in remote mountainous regions and also in coastal communities.
Pai Boonkam, founder of Local Alike, has an MBA in sustainable management and was eager to create a tourism social enterprise business that could be sustainable as well as replicable. Boonkam started with the design of a reliable online booking system.
“We are not just a platform,” Boonkam says. “Together with villagers we come up with tour packages to offer potential tourists. We test the package, and we try to raise awareness about what tourists should expect before travelling to the community.”
Different from a tour operator, Local Alike tries to educate communities about the sustainable capacity for the number of tourists in the area, and then lets them decide how many tourists they are willing to “welcome” each month.
Local Alike is already in the process of creating a fund for re-investment in social and environmental solutions for villagers.
In 2014, the company is only in its first year of tours, yet Boonkam hopes to replicate the model in nearby Laos and Burma. He hopes the job opportunities and inflow of money will allow communities to develop more organically, rather than as government development funds dictate. Local Alike is also hoping to provide job opportunities so that fewer young people will have to leave their homes for urban career opportunities.
Boonkam hopes that by focusing on local community development the company can build a new definition of sustainable tourism.
“We help these communities to promote their unique culture while making sure that the culture will not be deteriorated due to unethical tourism activities,” he says.south-east Asia sustainable tourism Thailand travel