To kick off this week’s episode of Talk Travel Asia podcast, Trevor talks about a time in the recent past when ‘ecotourism’ was the big travel buzzword. Though no one really knew exactly what it meant, it was thought to represent travel that was ‘green’ or perhaps sustainable; that is to say, low impact on the environment, perhaps. Eventually, the label seemed to become used to describe anything that occurred outdoors.
He then talks about how ‘ecotourism’ was replaced by ‘responsible’ tourism, which, while writing guidebooks for National Geographic, he took to mean tourism that was, at least, not detrimental to the environment or exploitive of a community and, at best, actually provided benefit to minority groups or endangered species, for example. Of course, even this new tourism buzzword has been corrupted by many mercenary tourist providers and we now have such dreadful things as ‘orphanage tourism’ and even a backlash in the form of ‘humanitarian douchery” – as explained in an online article he and Scott recently read.
Scott agrees that these labels are a real tricky one; a slippery slope. Scott has helped design and coordinate a number of community programs over the years, most of them were when they saw a perceived need, got in at the local level, and enrolled locals to make it happen, with some financial assistance at times. Examples include English Fun Days, Gibbons at Highland Farm, a school in Nepal, subsidizing dental work, and establishing the Angkor Tuk-Tuk Program. The key here, Scott explains, is that volunteer tourism, and taking a couple weeks to go somewhere and ‘make a difference’ is much more complicated than you may think. Caution is needed, he advises. Scott suggests asking yourself: Why are you doing this? To get shots of you with orphans or do you have something you can truly contribute that locals can’t?
Scott and Trevor discuss the reality that companies are just that – they need to make a profit and while that’s not always a bad thing, people should ensure that they know what they’re getting into, know where there money is going, and again, ask themselves if what they’re doing is something they’re more qualified to do than others are, if it’s the best use of their talent, and if it’s respectful to locals? Often the greatest good can be done without having to leave home or get “cute” shots with orphans.
Scott shares a quote from today’s guest, Bodhi Garrett of Andaman Discoveries, “Responsible travel is about minimizing the negative impact of your travel and directly giving back to the communities you visit. It is about understanding the story behind the price you are paying, and knowing the local people who are working hard to make your holiday an enjoyable one.”
Trevor follows up by explaining the reality is that tourism is a massive industry and it leaves an enormous footprint on both the environment and local cultures. And, while there certainly are exploitive organizations who naively brand themselves ‘responsible’ or outright misrepresent themselves as providing such, there are also many organizations that genuinely offer responsible travel opportunities. He concludes by stating that, today, they’re going to talk to someone who he believes represents those responsible practices.
Episode 26 guest: Bodhi Garett of Andaman Discoveries. Trevor introduces Bodhi by giving some background on their guest. He explains that Bodhi founded North Andaman Tsunami Relief after the December 2004 wave claimed his job, home, and the communities he had come to know and love. This grassroots disaster relief effort grew under his leadership to encompass over 150 projects in 12 villages. Since then Bodhi has become a bit of a guru in Community Based Tourism in the south of Thailand and has thus been an indispensable resource for Trevor’s travel writing research.
Among the many questions answered by Bodhi, he talks about how he defines community-based tourism; how he thinks it’s different from “sustainable” or “responsible tourism”; how tourists can differentiate between legitimate and exploitive tourism offerings, such as orphanage tourism; how CBT benefits communities such as Baan Talay Nok, the fishing village where Andaman Discoveries has set up a homestay experience; what are some of the challenges of CBT programs; tips for listeners to keep in mind when planning a ‘responsible’ or ‘Community Based Tourism’ trip; and finally, a bit about some of Andaman Discoveries other programs, including the Mokken Experience on Surin Island and the Burmese learning center.
In wrapping things up, Trevor reminds their listeners that they recorded this episode a couple of days after the earthquakes in Nepal and he knows that Bodhi spent his childhood there and that he is doing some work to support relief efforts. Bodhi then talks a bit about the program he set up to help folks over in Nepal in the long-term recovery effort drawing on his experience in the aftermath of the tsunami ten years earlier, in Thailand.
See a Photo Gallery of pictures from this episode!
Check out a Google Map of Thailand’s Southwest Coast!
About our guest: Bodhi Garrett
- Andaman Discoveries
- We Help Nepal: Bodhi’s Earthquake Disaster Relief Initiative
To learn more about Scott & Trevor:
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- Trevor’s Blog
- Scott’s Blog
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- National Geographic Cambodia
- National Geographic Thailand
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- Theme Music by Jamie Ruben
Our Sponsor: Episode 26 is brought to you by Siem Reap Dirt Bikes. Siem Reap Dirt Bikes offers ‘off the beaten track’ motorbike adventure tours in the most remote areas of Cambodia, taking you to places others don’t go! Siem Reap Dirt Bikes does offer some day trip excursions but primarily they focus on multi-day adventures to the more remote areas of Cambodia focusing on fun terrain and awesome attractions.
About Talk Travel Asia: Talk Travel Asia is a travel podcast discussing things to see and experience while traveling in Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, and other parts of Asia. What makes this travel podcast unique is that it is not simply a travel podcast or a Thailand podcast but is a forum for people who care about responsible tourism practices and experiences in Asia.
Important topic and a complex one. The terms are in general misused by the larger corporations. The size allows them to chalk up mistakes and work on improvements which are so low on the priority scale its frightening. I think key here in transparency. Lets hope we can get a more checks and balances in place and hopefully a positive impact on these initiatives can be felt in local communities.
Indeed – there are no easy answers. Thanks for your comment and listening!