Thailand's 50 Great Green Escapes

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This article was written by Ricard Werly, the main author of “Travel Green Thailand.”

Six years after the unforgettable tragedy of the 2004 tsunami in Asia, Thailand’s tourism sector is finally showing some willingness to take a badly needed green turn.

I saw it with my own eyes while traveling throughout the country for our latest book, “Travel Green Thailand–An Ecotourism Journey.” And I could get a further confirmation these last months, while touring the country again for this book.

In many places, especially in the tsunami stricken South, the catastrophic consequences of ecosystem destruction have finally been understood, bringing the national and local authorities to act. Though nothing is ensured in the present volatile Thai political context, marked by last May’s tragic events in Bangkok, my firm impression is that numerous tourism operators and industry executives now realize how dangerous it would be for them to continue turning a blind eye to deforestation, beach pollution, or coral reef destruction. Moreover, as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) just launched its global partnership to make tourism worldwide sustainable (unep.org), Thailand is expected to play a major role as one of the world’s finest leisure destinations. The country, luckily, does not start from scratch. After years of ecological abuses,Thailand is facing its inconvenient truths, like widespread deforestation, with courage and determination. Green consciousness in the Kingdom is taking root.

Rigging the Changes by Example Public figures, like the defunct ecological hero and park activist Seub Nakasathien, are now very much referred and regularly quoted in speeches by Thai politicians and officials. And those words are backed up by generational changes in behavior: a green fashion, though very commercial minded, is interestingly taking root among the country youths who, in the thronged huddle of consumer goods displayed in Bangkok, proudly buy T-shirts proclaiming the need to “live green” and “save the planet.” Nevertheless, this “green” call to arms demands more than words and fashion to be sustainable, especially for business owners or CEOs whose investment strategies need certainty for the future, and clearer political visibility. That is why I am a firm believer in “green standards” adapted to the Thai reality, and to the society’s appropriate level of acceptance and resilience. Our tour of the country’s 50 great greenescapes, initiated by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) wants precisely to play such a pioneer role. The promotion of green tourism shall be an “inclusive” process, where everybody is invited to come aboard if promising to respect and uphold previously agreed upon standards, whose implementation shall definitely be verified and followed up closely. Following the UNEP initiative on sustainable tourism, a lot of windows are opening up.

Courageously, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has grabbed some of those opportunities, setting up the “Green Leaf Foundation” to check on hotels and accommodations. But let us be optimistic: why not, tomorrow, form an advisory body on sustainable tourism made of Thai academics, environmental activists, non governmental organizations delegates and business operators? This panel would issue periodic recommendations or warnings, upon learning of natural destruction damages in some part of the country. Because green tourism, after all, is judged by the visitors themselves. So be our guests. And be our judges. Be part, with us all, of this badly needed “Thailand Tourism Green Turn.”