The growth of eco-tourism in Thailand is still limited to a small number of green operators and few concerns about protecting nature, says the Thai Ecotourism and Adventure Travel Association (TEATA).
Tourism operators and local tourists pay little attention to eco-tourism. Operators think they will have to invest a lot to make their properties and services more environmentally friendly while local tourists simply don’t care.
“This will gradually change as some operators learn more about the impacts of global warming, and tourists from Europe and some Asian nations show their interest in this issue,” said Sumitra Mutturanont, the TEATA’s president.
Last year, eco-tourist arrivals in Thailand numbered one million out of 19.09 million visitors.
The TEATA will survey six new eco-tourism routes to expand green tourism by 5% this year, she said.
Key rivals such as Malaysia seriously promote green tourism, as they see the potential of travellers aged 40-50 who prefer green tourism products.
“We hope the government and the Tourism Authority of Thailand will encourage operators to promote green routes abroad to strengthen competitiveness,” Ms Sumitra said.
The association wants the TAT to promote Thailand as an eco-tourism destination rather than a leisure destination, as green tourism protects natural resources and eco-tourism packages are 30-40% more expensive than general tour packages.
An eco-tourism package costs 80,000 to 90,000 baht, with eco-tourists usually staying up to two weeks on average. Key markets for eco-tourism are Europe (50%), the US (30%) and Asia.
The TEATA’s six new green routes comprise Surat Thani-Nakhon Si Thammarat, Krabi-Trang, Kanchanaburi, Udon Thani-Loei, Ubon Ratchathani, and Phitsanulok-Phrae-Nan. To create a green route needs time to survey and test products, as both the accommodations and restaurants must be authentically green.
“We’re trying to convince the operators about the popularity of eco-tourism and educate guides to meet international standards. An eco-tourism guide can make 1,200 to 1,500 baht per day for a 10-14 day trip compared with a general guide that will make 800 to 1,000 baht daily for a three-day trip,” she said.
The strongest eco-tourism operators are in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, as many have joined together to promote green routes. Operators in the South are just learning about this trend, she added.