Last weekend I was honoured to join a community based tourism (CBT) marketing meeting in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The event was coordinated in partnership with the Thai Community Based Tourism Institute and the Thai Research Fund, with an aim to showcase research findings on enhancing the promotion of CBT in ASEAN, and sharing best practice.

It was an inspirational couple of days to connect with leaders in the field from all corners of Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Myanmar. Most importantly, I loved meeting passionate individuals from community initiatives from rural locations in Thailand. We shared stories, challenges, successes, and great food!

The tone for the weekend was set at an informal welcome dinner and cultural show at a stunning village on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. Within easy reach of the city, this community was an idyllic escape, nestled amongst vibrantly green rice fields with awe-inspiring mountain views. As the sun set, people from different cultures and languages connected over delicious local fare and fumbling dance moves.
Credit: Emmylou Noel

Credit: Emmylou Noel

For me and other globetrotters who seek meaningful connections with local people within the destinations we visit, CBT provides eye-opening experiences that get beyond normal tourism. These experiences are very special, and so it was fitting that the training framework was based on the acronym SPECIAL.

SPECIAL provides a unique take on the traditional ‘marketing mix’ training, to empower community members to showcase elements of their culture with visitors. At Ayana, we’re really excited to apply this concept, along with other responsible travel methodologies, to a range of experiences we’re developing. The model focuses on local ownership, decision making, and capacity building.

  • Segment – opportunities and challenges of target market
  • Place – community distinctiveness
  • Experience – crafting living stories for tourists to join in
  • Communications – storytelling
  • IT – connecting the marketing through technology
  • Access – selling experiences
  • Linkages – working together

Aside from the formal training, I explored some fascinating lessons learned from around the region. It was interesting to observe that countries like Thailand and India are attracting huge waves of domestic travellers, but for emerging economies like Cambodia and Myanmar, CBT is pretty much an exclusive international activity. I realised that Cambodia CBT programs are heavily reliant on NGO support, unlike Thai initiatives that have been grass-root grown.  As expected, I learned that many CBT projects don’t know about one another, and more work needs to be done to create trails that support like-minded initiatives. This poses a few exciting challenges and opportunities for Ayana! Based on our philosophy of connecting inspiring projects, we look forward to bringing great projects together, as well as aiming to empower communities through sustainable business rather than reliance on charity.

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