CHIANG RAI – EXO Travel’s managing director Hamish Keith, told more than 280 delegates attending the “PATA Adventure Travel and Responsible Tourism Conference and Mart”, that Elephant shows and treks are a no-go zone for adventure travel and responsible tourism advocates, stunning travel entrepreneurs from Chiang Rai.
Keith claims that Europe’s prevailing trend was to boycott elephant shows and treks unless they passed criteria set by strict responsible tourism guidelines from Travellife, TR Weekly reported.
Travellife certification is based on compliance with responsible tourism polices that include animal welfare policies.
Keith said European tour operators use Travellife’s checklist when selecting a company to provide tour content that touches on animal welfare.
Under the Travellife checklists elephant shows, rides and treks are in the no-go zone.
His comments created great concern for local delegates, based in Chiang Rai, who challenged his comments during the conferences coffee break saying it was grossly unfair to establish a business policy that excluded elephants and the hill-tribe communities that make a living offering treks.
TR Weekly that attended the PATA event reported that, Anantaras director of elephant and conservation activities, John Roberts, has publicly stated his view on various websites saying: The more I work with elephants the more I believe that they are not designed to live with humans “ particularly in the conditions under which they live in Thailand and other high tourism areas.
However, we do have captive elephants and we do have to look after them. If you are uncomfortable with the idea of captive elephants, the best thing to do is to visit a national park and see wild elephants.â€
But if you want to ride an elephant, don’t feel guilty about riding in the saddle, just ensure that you choose a place that understands how to look after elephants.
Meanwhile Mario Hardy, chief executive officer of the Pacific Asia Travel Association, said buyers and sellers were interested in adventure- and community-based tourism as these sectors are expanding throughout Asia.
China, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam are part of this emerging trend. “Thailand should take part of this by promoting new destinations such as Chiang Rai as alternative places for adventure and community tourism.
Hardy urged locals to showcase their unique products to capture high-spending tourists as community-based and adventure tourism is booming in Asia, including Thailand.
Mei Zhang, founder of WildChina, a trend-setting experiential travel company based in Beijing, said it had opened three offices in the United States and three in China.
She said community-based tourism and adventure activities in China had become more popular over the past decade.
“Younger ‘millennial’ Chinese travellers are interested in their roots and history and culture, such as historic communities and umbrella-making villages. This is a new trend in China, but still less among international tourists,” she said.
More and more Chinese tourists are coming to Chiang Rai and other parts of Thailand for food, shopping, and uniquely Thai experiences.
“If Thailand wants to have more high-spending tourists, particularly from China, it should build a good image of being a high-end destination first.”
Moreover, operators are urged to use more online and social media to reach new generations of Chinese tourists.