If the local (and global) tourism industry is to meet the rapidly changing expectations of its customers, and provide the long promised but as yet undelivered benefits to the host communities who have neither control over what is essentially their asset, nor an equitable share in its rewards, then new and innovative solutions are needed.
The global tourism supply and distribution model is commission based, and that is its weakness. 90% of the entire industry is made up of macro, small and medium sized tourism enterprises, most locally owned, and not represented by the system because the type of product they offer, and/or price asked for it, does not generate enough commission to attract the interest of the middlemen. These businesses need an alternative option (and assistance) that gives them effective and affordable market access.
Most (non mainstream tourists) come to Chiang Mai seeking “A memorable and personal travel experience, well away from the mainstream tourism attractions, allowing them to interact with the local people and experience the culture first hand”.
Do they actually get that?
Here in Chiang Mai there are literally thousands of activities and attractions that would allow them just that, but they are not included in the top 40 products promoted by the 400 plus travel and tour sales outlets in the city. That in a nutshell is why we have had a 13% return visitor rate for years, have far fewer visitors than the destination has the potential to attract, and continue to see rates drop year on year.
Focus on our USP’s (unique selling points), reduce dependence on the mass tourism market in favour of the special interest travel market. They are a far more resilient than the mainstream tourist. Their age and income levels vary so they use the full range of accommodation options. They tend to stay longer, focus on value for money and under our proposed solution will make a far greater contribution to the local economy than any other guest type will. They also have high return visit potential.
Outline – The RTA business model.
The Responsible Tourism & Special Interest Travel Alliance (RTA) offers small tourism businesses direct, low cost and non-commission based market access, in exchange for their implementation of a set of flexible ‘responsible tourism best practices’ that will bring the entire community strong social, economic and environmental benefits. It is quite simple and here is how it works:
1. The tourism small and medium enterprise (SME)
– Joins the RTA as a Business Partner and is offered direct, low cost and non-commission based access to their potential customers. In exchange, they must comply with a set of flexible responsible tourism best practices.
2. The special interest traveller
– Joins the RTA free-of-charge as a Club Member and is offered discounts on interesting tour products. In exchange, they report back on the RTA Business Partner’s best practice compliance, and make a small donation to support their choice of RTA volunteer, project or campaign.
3. The RTA Volunteer
– The volunteer training and costs incurred whilst assisting tourism SMEs to get online with the RTA are subsidised by barter unit based compensation from the tourism SMEs they assist.
4. The host country (destination/community)
– Benefits because:
(a) The ‘full’ value of the tourist dollar is injected into the ‘local’ economy.
(b) The many undiscovered unique selling points of Chiang Mai are being promoted.
(c) Controls (best practices) are in place to ensure that the local tourism industry is using tourism revenue to deliver social, economic and environmental benefits to the community.
The Pilot Project – Chiang Mai has been chosen as the location for the pilot project, and starting in January 2011, foreign and Thai university tourism studies interns (working alongside other volunteers) to put 1001 small local tourism enterprises (SMEs) online through the RTA Vortal.
Track of the Tiger T.R.D. (Tourism Resources Development) who will run the project is seeking the collaboration of the Chiang Mai community to identify accommodation, attractions, activities, and courses of interest to the ‘special interest travel market’. Some examples include:
1. Cultural immersion.
Travelling along any of the proposed tour routes at the right time of week, month or year, the visitor will be presented with countless opportunities to get involved in local life: visiting a Kad Nut (weekly travelling market), helping to plough a rice paddy using a buffalo, or perhaps harvesting rice alongside the villagers. Properly managed availability of the activities can be known and booked in advance.
2. Local Experts (resident, retired foreigner or Thai).
Who offer workshops, sharing precious information, providing field trips or evening lectures, on a vast range of special interest topics. The visitor pays for the lecture, buy the book or CD, and everybody wins.
3. Work a while with a craftsman.
Visit a small, non-descript workshop in the heart of the old town, to see an old man and his son, 5th and 6th generations of a family of craftsmen who have created classic (jack fruit tree wood based) Thai musical instruments for the Thai Royal family for the past 150 years. You buy a small instrument or pay for the craftsman’s time.