Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) play an important role in the Thai economy, accounting for 36 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2018. The government plans to increase this to 50 per cent by 2025, so there is no doubt that the importance of SMEs in Thailand is set to increase.
The majority of tourism-related businesses in Thailand are SMEs, run by private companies, individuals, community groups or non-profit organizations. However, they are at a disadvantage when it comes to offering well-managed, sustainable ecotourism products, as these small businesses do not have access to resources or information. Moreover, tourism business managers are often afraid that becoming ‘environmentally friendly’ will result in higher costs and reduced profits.
In fact, there are several economic benefits to good environmental management. For a start, tourists are increasingly sensitive to environmental and social issues, and many of them study hotels’ and tour companies’ mission statements closely before signing up for a stay or a tour. By involving local people in the decision-making process and paying a fair wage for their work, SMEs can create a harmonious relationship with the community, which is beneficial to all.
Essentially, to promote sustainable tourism, SMEs need to be traveller-friendly, nature-friendly and community-friendly. In order to be traveller-friendly, they need to operate in a clean, attractive environment with comfortable facilities for tourists, to have knowledgeable and helpful staff, and to offer opportunities for tourists to explore and discover the local nature and culture. A good example of this last point is Fern Resort in Mae Hong Son, where there is a nature trail with a free map for visitors, so they can learn a lot about local flora and fauna as they walk the trail.
Being nature-friendly means things like careful planning of new buildings, keeping energy consumption down to a minimum and aiming to produce zero waste. One way to cut down on energy consumption is to erect a new building perpendicular to the direction of prevailing winds; in this way natural breezes can replace air conditioning.
Being community-friendly involves close communication with locals on all aspects of the tourism-related business, employing local staff where possible (as guides, hotel and restaurant staff) and constantly looking for ways to promote the local culture. This could be through opening shops for the sale of locally crafted souvenirs, or by staging performances of local music and dance for visitors. As long as the local people benefit from the tourism business, any SME is likely to be warmly welcomed into the local community.