Thai sustainable tourism initiative discussed in Sweden

Thai authorities are taking the next step forward to ensure further awareness in environmental matters. Last week Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) advisor Khun Pradech Phayakvichien was in Stockholm to meet with representatives from SIDA, WWF, some of the biggest tour operators in Scandinavia and the head of the Swedish Global Compact.
     The purpose for his visit was to discuss a Thai initiative, Green Leaf Programme, to ask for their opinions, advices and knowledge.
     The Green Leaf Foundation started its activities in 1998 and is supervised by Board of Environmental Promotion of Tourism Activities (BEPTA). The programme is among other things aiming at “raising awarness within Thai tourism industry about promoting environmental quality and preservation”.
     The meeting with the representatives from the tour operators took place at the TAT Scandinavia office in Stockholm. Khun Pradech wanted to stress the seriousness in the programme from a Thai point of view.
     “We like to see a common environmental standard in all the Asian countries and therefore want to offer them our knowledge for free. In our part of the world we need to have a regional standard that is compatible to our culture and to the geographical differences.”
     Currently seventy-nine Thai hotels have the Green Leaf and the auditing is done every two years. Now the Thai government likes to broaden the adoption of the Green Leaf Programme and wishes it to be used in all different levels as for example on consumer goods and services.
     Representatives for the government try to act as role models and always stay at Green Leaf hotels when traveling to meetings. And of course Khun Pradech wants the travel industry to act the same way. As examples of what hotels can do to be more environmentally friendly he mentioned using pot flowers instead of cut flowers, not serving fruit out of season and keeping the water clean.
     “One hotel owner did not get the Green Leaf since he insisted in keeping a baby elephant at the premises. If you choose Green Leaf hotels you help us in keeping the country environmentally healthy.”
     One of the participants at the meeting was Miss Lotta Sand who has lately started to work for Apollo and who is likely to be the most well informed person in Sweden when it comes to sustainable tourism. She pointed out the importance of credibility of the Green Leaf.
     “For us as tour operators it is crucial. It is also vital that the criteria are harmonized with the criteria for the situation of the people. When we talk about sustainability it is important to add the rights of people.”
     Dr. Tom Selänniemi, who is manager for sustainable tourism at Finnish Aurinko Matkat-Suntours, totally agreed.
     “You need to be very careful when setting up regional standards so that the criteria are compatible with criteria all over the world. At the same time it is of course important to have a regional approach. From the tour operators we have to be absolutely sure what we are promoting. I am responsible towards the clients.”
     Lotta Sand added the necessity of following the law stated by the European Union, EU. The law says that the tour operator is responsible for the accuracy of everything written in the brochure.
     “It is also important to highlight the issues that are vital to the customers. In Asia you should add some of the problems that are in Asia. Thailand is a fairly rich country but now when Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are coming it is of great importance to look not only at fresh water but also at the situation of the people.”
     Khun Pradech showed a strong engagement in the future of the Green Leaf. However he also informed about the dependence of input, advice, cooperation and suggestions on useful channels from the tour operators to reach a successful outcome.
     It would most definitely be an advantage if as many countries as possible in Asia could have the same standard which would make things easier for the clients as oppose to Europe where there are several standards with flowers, trees and so on. The future development is of course also dependant on the funds from the government. And naturally depends also on the commitment and the ability of joining forces of all the stakeholders.
     No doubt sustainability constantly is getting more important to all business but maybe above all to the tour industry, both Tom Selänniemi and Lotta Sand seemed convinced about that.
     “In a way we have taught our clients to be demanding. It is different today than five years ago. Customers are asking about these issues and are very cautious.”
     “Sustainability is no longer something extra, it is part of the overall quality. The more sustainability, the higher the quality and the other way around.”
     At the end of the meeting Khun Pradech showed a great interest in having more meetings and workshops. His genuine hope and belief is that in three years there will be well over 300 Green Leaf affiliated hotels in Thailand.

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