Ten Responsible Tourism Operators in Southeast Asia

This year in its finale event, Wild Asia showcased ten former Responsible Tourism Award Winners and Finalists in an effort to share their replicable best practices that also serve as a tool to inspire future entrepreneurs. By Prerna Shah.

Singapore, 21 October 2016: In a high growth market like Asia, tourism can serve as an engine for sustainable development and inclusive growth. Incorporating local communities in the tourism value chain can reduce inequalities and provide alternate livelihood opportunities. Further, attaching value to local culture and environment can serve as a strong cohesive force that binds people together. Not to mention, such green models can be good for the business too! They help fulfil the rapidly rising demand for authentic cultural engagement with minimal environmental impact and maximum benefit to host communities.

Initiated a decade ago, the Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards began when sustainable tourism approaches were looked at with doubt and uncertainty. Finding and profiling success stories in such a dicey environment and sustaining the movement for a decade is no ordinary feat. “Over time our Awards have gone from a grassroots movement facilitating third party verification, to a regional panel of industry leaders supporting our judging process”, says Dr. Reza Azmi, Founder and Director of Wild Asia.

Inspiring Stories

Agri Tourism, India: Established with a mission to create alternate livelihood for farmers, Agri Tourism set up a centralized booking system for small scale farmers cum tourism entrepreneurs across rural India. With its own flagship site at Baramati and 320 third-party agricultural tourism centres Agri Tourism has addressed a key challenge of farming in India i.e. seasonality and hence provided at least a 25% increase in farmers’ income. Among other benefits, this initiative has checked urban migration, pushed rural development projects and built a greater appreciation for rural areas among domestic travelers. Today, the flagship site attracts more than 6000 visitors each year.

Jungle survivor exercise at Khao Sok National Park. (Pic Credits: Andaman Discoveries)Andaman Discoveries, Thailand: Born out of the Tsunami Relief project, Andaman Discoveries is a community-based tourism (CBT) enterprise seeking economic renewal of the communities hard hit by the disaster. “In the beginning a lot of people were scared and skeptical of our approach, but soon when people saw our successes they pitched in. Some of the people who had migrated came back too,” says Thamrong “Tui” Chomphusri, Director of Andaman Discoveries.

Ban Talae Nok, one of the participant villages has received approximately 35% additional income owing to the local volunteer trips, home-stay experiences and community eco-tours embedded in the CBT project. Through active collaboration with the North Andaman Network (NAN) Foundation, Andaman Discoveries has supported more than 150 Moken children from Koh Surin by offering scholarships to attend middle or high school. “Our future strategy is to involve more villages into the CBT project and collaborate with like-minded business to expand our reach,” adds Chomphusri.

Giving back thorugh the BEST Society. (Pic Credits: Borneo Eco Tours)Borneo Eco-Tours, Malaysia: Borneo Eco-Tours specializes in nature-based tourism by not only training their 100% local staff but also supporting communities in establishing their own cottage industries like jewelery making, weaving and coconut oil production. Embracing unique ecotourism principles, the Sukau Rainforest Lodge designed elephant passes that enabled Borneo pygmy elephants to migrate through the property. This initiative earned it the prestigious recognition by National Geographic as a Unique Lodge of the World. Its sister organization, the Borneo Ecotourism Solutions and Technologies (BEST) society has invested more than USD 130,000 for community and environmental projects, impacting more than 6300 people directly.

Child Safe Movement, Cambodia: Started by Friends International, Child Safe is a global movement protecting children and youth across tourist destinations. Travelers sometimes unknowingly put children at a risk of exploitation while visiting overseas destinations. In Cambodia, volunteering in orphanages was actually perpetuating a trend of intentionally placing children in such institutions and care centres. Hence, apart from providing Seven Tips for Travelers to enable tourists to make better, more responsible choices, the Child Safe Movement also provides children with vocational training and generates employment for their parents. Social enterprises generate USD 3.3 million in product sales and services across 3 countires. The organization provides tourism businesses with child protection training so they can identify a child at risk and report incidents through a 24 hour helpline. Today, there are more than 8000 trained individuals who can act as Child Safe agents.

CBT Homestay at one of the participating villages. (Pic Credits: CBT Vietnam)CBT Vietnam: CBT Vietnam uses tourism as a means to protect vulnerable ethnic communities. Women are trained and supported in a way that enables them to run their own tourism business. In order to build lasting business relationships, community members who had never left their village visited Hanoi to interact with local government and tourism stakeholders. Owing to such close collaborative activities, the rural villages of Tavan, Taphin and Lao Chai have become completely self-sufficient. Income generated by some individuals in the villages has increased from USD 500 per year to USD 2400 per year.

El Nido Resorts, Philippines: A group of four sustainable island resorts, El Nido strives to create harmony between tourism and its natural surroundings. Through a unique fishing activity, visitors interact with local fishermen, immerse themselves in their culture and participate in low impact fishing, while being educated about the negative impacts of unsustainable fishing. Each guest is provided with a refillable bottle on their arrival which can be filled at complimentary drinking water stations. By using their own desalination plant, El Nido saves more than USD 160,000 every year. Further, by processing their own food waste, the resorts generate almost 10 tons of natural compost that is fuelled back into their organic gardens.

Students engaged in a local community development project. (Pic credits: Loola Adventure Resort)Loola Adventure Resort, Indonesia: With a commitment to empower local staff members and communities, Loola Adventure Resort supports them in setting up their own social enterprises. In order to foster community engagement, guests participate in community development projects such as planting trees or paving school compounds. Loola has installed 70 solar panels, covering 60% of the resort’s current energy usage. Among prominent initiatives under its Community Involvement Project (CIP), Loola has planted 10 hectares of trees in the island and developed wastewater gardens for 60 local households that help save 15% of household income per year.

PEPY Tours, Cambodia: PEPY Tours provides educational travel to academic institutions all over the world. Through a unique payment structure that includes a compulsory fundraising component, the operator has directly contributed close to USD 400,000 to its sister NGO, PEPY Empowering Youth. This organization is providing skill training and educational programs to Khmer youth (currently 50 students) so they can achieve their career goals and access skilled jobs. Apart from having an immersive cultural experience visitors get to stay in homestays and dine in social business restaurants while simultaneously engaging in workshops and debates on developmental issues.

Drying silk yarn at a workshop. (Pic Credits: Ock Pop Tok)Ock Pop Tok, Lao PDR: Ock Pop Tok, or more simply ‘East meets West’ is a collaboration between a British and Laotian lady to promote traditional hand-loomed textiles in the western markets. Through the Village Weavers Project, design and marketing assistance is provided thereby purchasing up to 1000 products and leading to significant income generation and income reduction. Additionally, the Living Crafts Centre conducts workshops to provide visitors an insight in to Lao’s traditional handicrafts and textiles. Committed to implement ethical business practices, Ock Pop Tok has increased natural dye use from 5% to nearly 50%.

Soneva Resorts, Maldives and Thailand: Working on its philosophy of ‘intelligent luxury’, Soneva Resorts provides high-quality experiences while balancing their impact on the natural environment and local communities. Through the Whole World Water project, the resort has bottled its own water and recorded a 700% increase in profit, not to mention given 750,000 people access to safe drinking water. Its Waste-to-Wealth initiative has led to an 80% (or sometimes even more) recycling rate while generating in excess of USD 260,000 in 2015. This has been done through ground-breaking initiatives like converting polystyrene into bean bags across the resort and reworking crushed glass into new works of art to be used in the resort. It even measure its operational performance through its own Soneva Carbon Calculator!

For a more detailed overview, read the 10 year reflection report here.

Also, visit the Wild Asia website here.


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