The future of Chiang Mai tourism is to be better

By | Mon 18 Jul 2022

Thailand Ambassador for the World Food Travel Association, Max Thammaraks joins Citylife Editor-in-Chief on her colourful daybed for a thorough chat about tourism.

Max’s parents founded Intco Travel Company over forty years ago, with Max having been in the business for nearly two decades. The company also owns The Legend Resort in Chiang Rai, Hmong Lodge in Mae Rim and Lampang River Lodge.
Max, like many of his tour operating colleagues and competitors, suffered during the pandemic, as number of tourisms dwindled to zero at the start of the pandemic and while things are looking up now that Thailand has opened, numbers are still far far below pre-pandemic levels.

Pim talks to Max about the past, present and future of Chiang Mai tourism, discussing the fact that world trends are showing that today’s travellers are choosing to travel closer to home, participate in more community based tourism, choose environmentally sustainable destinations with less crowds and with an emphasis on health and safety.

“I think that we need to make a lot of adaptation, we are doing a lot of things right such as in terms of safety and so on, hygiene, but there is more work to be done,” said Max, referring to Thailand’s current ranking as 6th in the world by Global Health Security Index. “We have to maybe focus on different kinds of tourism.”

The discussion covers topics such as decentralisation and touches on the fact that the Tourism Authority of Thailand is currently promoting beaches and boats over mountains and culture. 

Max, whose company believes in community and environmentally sustainable tourism reflects on the worrying fact that Thailand was ranked 130th out of 140 countries by the Environmental Sustainability Forum. “I would like to change that” said Max who has a lovely resort in the mountains, Hmong Lodge, which follows all these sustainable goals.

The conversation touches on elephant and hill tribe tourism, as Max discusses how he navigates the moral and commercial aspects of the industry. “There are many types of elephant experiences now for tourists to choose. We follow a guideline from Born Free and a few other entities which focus on this issues, so we have to do our own research and make the right decision.”

Max is a proponent of more government regulation in tourism, “Yes, when it comes to wildlife, they are part of us, they used to work with us before so if they are not in tourism then where will they be? I think it is going to be a lot more regulated in the future and elephants are going to have more rights and a better life.”

“For me, I really believe in it. In 2019 we had 1.4 billion travellers around the world and we were going to double that by 2030 and before Covid happened. Of that number, 39 million came to Thailand. So the equation is simple, whatever sells, you sell it, and the best destination brings in the most people and makes the most money (Thailand was 9th most visited country). Before Covid we thought tourism growth was unstoppable in Thailand. This drew the line in the sand for us,” said Max who believes that this is the time for Thailand to do a lot of self reflection and improvements.
“Chiang Mai has so much going for us, we are ranked regularly as one of the best destinations in the world. We must find a way to control our resources, deal with over supply situation and forest encroachment. How can we reimagine tourism, build back better, how can we give more than we take. Covid has made us all think.”