Posted: December 9, 2022
It’s February 2020. After many technical delays and postponements, the tickets are finally purchased, the equipment is loaded, and the bags are all packed. Thailand, here we come! There are some troubling reports of an emerging virus, but it doesn’t seem to be impacting our destination. What could possibly go wrong?
For our GLP team, this will always be the backdrop against which this story of community-based tourism (CBT) in Thailand is set. The pandemic context adds an emotional layer to the film, made all the more poignant because the community in which this story is set provided such warm and genuine hospitality for our film crew’s stay. The experience was immersive, authentic, and inspiring–the best of what sustainable tourism can bring to our world.
We are often asked, “What makes a good story? What’s the secret?” The simple answer is time. The more time we have to invest in the pre-production process, the richer the story will be. Our film partner for this campaign, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), had been experiencing the negative impacts of mass tourism for several years and wanted to reposition itself as a more sustainable global destination. GLP came alongside them to bring a new focus to the sustainable products and experiences available in Thailand. Because CBT models are well-established in the destination, we used that as the starting point for our process. We really wanted to dig into a local community that was effectively implementing a CBT model (preferably one tied to conservation, since environmental degradation was a major problem in many tourist areas). So our next step was to go to the experts themselves: the locals.
Listen to Local Community Leaders
We always work directly with local operators in-country who are vetted and committed to sustainable tourism. They get it: they have the local expertise, and they also work to support the industry. Working closely with Travelife, we were connected to Andaman Discoveries and, ultimately, to the community of Ban Talae Nok on the Andaman Coast.
Following the devastation of the 2004 tsunami, Ban Talae Nok looked not just to recover, but to rebuild with resiliency so that future generations would be cared for and protected. With the support of Andaman Discoveries, Ban Talae Nok chose a CBT model to provide economic support to community members while preserving their unique culture. They also partnered with Mangrove Action Project (MAP) to restore their vital mangrove forests using a science-based, community-led approach to conservation.
For our film crew, the time spent staying in the community, connecting with the local leaders, their families, and other tourists in the homestay setting really informed the depth of this story.
“I’ll never forget it. It was powerful and moving to see the world through the eyes of Bang Hem [community leader] and his family,” explains Rob Holmes, Founder of GLP Films. “They understood the story we wanted to help them tell. Ultimately, it was about the power of community. It was truly emotional when we left, which isn’t the case for every shoot.”
A genuine connection was forged with our team, and, during the height of lockdown, we had the opportunity to check-in with the community to see how they were doing while we were producing our #TourismStrong series. The community was healthy–they had ample food sourced from the healthy mangrove forests and the surrounding sea, and they had each other. The loss of income from tourism was not dire since the CBT model was structured to provide only supplemental income from tourism. Mostly, they missed having visitors come and enjoy the beauty of their home, share a meal, and exchange stories. We did, too.
We hope the video will continue to inspire more meaningful journeys. We will continue to celebrate the stories of destinations who center community needs, goals and aspirations at the heart of a more regenerative tourism model. Ultimately, what’s good for locals is good for travelers.