The past weeks and months have been an intellectual challenge as to consolidate our strongpoints as a travel operators, cause promoters, volunteers and educators into a financially viable system that drives social innovation. We’ve attended summits, visited projects and read articles and been inspired by the work and visions of many of Thailand’s great innovators.
Since our humble beginning over 3 years ago our mission and vision has always revolved around Thailand’s great communities and people and to deliver an unforgettable, meaningful and authentic picture for visitors.
Looking at tourism we learned that Thailand’s tourism industry excels in providing logistics and amenities to millions of tourists to enjoy the country’s famed sights and destinations, local communities and the local economy however have somewhat been left out of the equation. According to a U.N. study, out of 100 USD spent by travelers from developed countries in developing countries only 5USD stay in the local economy.
From a civil society point of view we still see a plethora of challenges for communities among them accessing educational resources, economic opportunities, providing perspectives for youth or conserving our natural and cultural resources. Add to that, that in times of tourism growth we are suffering from a shortage of competent labor in the tourism and hospitality sector and the threat of unmanaged tourism to our natural and cultural resources it is about time to rethink the notion of tourism and the role of tourism operators.
It often seems that there’re two extremes, on one hand the idea of backpacking, exploring a country in search for the most authentic and raw experience there is and package tours on the other end of the spectrum. The latter comes completely guided by the concept of on-, and offloading tourists at sights we assume to be popular and providing them with activities they would find elsewhere in the world in the safety and familiarity of large hotels or resort compounds. In between these two extremes we got those operators like PEAK or G-ADVENTURES taking small groups in guided but offbeat trips to create authentic and memorable experiences for the travelers. Now, companies like G-Adventures whose founders have pioneered the concept of sustainable tourism are aiming to add social innovation into their operations which is a great thing and suddenly we see all major companies with a big financial clout to set up foundations to support causes their customers care about though elephant treks and other questionable practices are still the classics on their main menu.
It is the current evolutionary process of large for-profits to give back. From a once ignorant and detrimental pure profit drive to a pure profit drive that uses a non-profit sticker like a WWF panda to evoke emotional response from customers to the two separate hands principle of which one tries to fix what the other destroys. Companies separate non and for profit clearly to base all decisions towards maximum for profit growth without non-profit aspects interfering. On the other end you have non-profits whose existence serves the purpose on alleviating the negative footprint of tourism and gearing tourism towards a force for positive impact. Though they deliver great value many of them do struggle financially. In the middle you have smaller for profits that genuinely commit to sustainable practices and drive small-scale positive impact.
The question that interests us is whether it is possible to create a sustainable and scalable model that unites a successful for-profit and a highly impactful non-profit that can become a juggernaut and a dominant brand for good in the tourism industry? Gadventures is seen by some as a social enterprise as it consolidates for and non-profit under one brand but as it has spread across the globe to countless countries it must be a tremendous challenge to achieve the same level of non-profit impact as in their pioneering countries. No doubt Gadventures has been doing incredible work and Bruce Poontip is one of the great innovators and a true Jedi but in Thailand Gadventure is not yet on the radar of being a true social enterprise.
With increasing number of people throwing around the buzzwords of social entrepreneurship and social enterprises we have stepped back from using the label as we have to admit that our regularly operated experiences focus on offbeat and using public transportation and raising awareness but cannot be described as a force for positive change for local communities but they deliver great value for travelers and help us to sustain ourselves. The art will be to integrate our passion for youth empowerment, cultural exchange, education, community based products and services and creative offbeat Thailand experiences into a scalable system that sets itself apart from other travel companies and redefines the idea of a Thailand experience and whatever you call it in the end just don’t make it a buzzword.