EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul: Communities Have Wisdom

Thailand Minister of Tourism H.E. Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul

Thailand Minister of Tourism and Sports Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul talks in exclusivity to ASEAN.travel over ways to cap tourism development in a bid to protect and maintain sustainability.

A major issue for tourism development in Asia – and generally the rest of the world- is to encourage a proper destination management in a bid to avoid an unbalance between flows of visitors and the resources of the destination, and ultimately a dilution of identity of the destination. Minister of Tourism Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul gives her opinion over the measures that the government can implement to avoid turning destinations into little “Disneyland”.

How is it possible to control tourism flows in destinations to avoid saturation and ultimately a destruction of the local life and of the local identity?

Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul- It is a complex delicate question. As a government, we have limited ways to provide a legal frame to people’s will. This is written in our constitution that people are free to act according to what they believe to be best. For example, they have the right to sell their land with a beautiful old traditional mansion and have it replace by a condominium.

I really looked for ways to see if we could as a government intervene to limit “damages” on our heritage and culture. It is very difficult although some actions have been taken such as very strict zoning enforcements. This is what happens for example in Khao Yai National Park.

What can be then done by the government or yourself?

Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul- Most of the time, tourism development is driven by people with good intentions. What we then can do is to rely on communities living in areas. We then have to educate them to understand the challenges of growth and development, showing them the right way to move on. We must for example explain that putting coffee shop and cupcakes shop at every corner of a small town as it does already exist in many places is the right way. As the government, we then need to educate and help to promote the principles and guidelines of a Community-Based tourism.

We give them the message that money making is not the only criteria to grow but also sustainability environment protection, economical sufficiency and identity preservation.

Are you optimistic about Thai people’s awareness over these challenges in tourism development?

Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul- I am definitely optimistic as I rely on local wisdom. Local communities know indeed best what they want and need. Politicians will be replaced but communities stay. We of course need to help and explain. This is what we now do with a special agency of tourism management which also evaluates if a community is ready or not to embrace tourism development and how deep it can be implemented.

It is also very important to transmit the knowledge to the young generation as they will carry on with the task we are now setting.

Are they some new frames that the Ministry is creating to preserve the identity of destinations?

Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul- We created 8 clusters with a ninth one being soon implement around theme or geography. We have for example a Chao Praya River, Lanna, Active Beach, Cultural World Heritage, Andaman or Royal Coast Clusters. This will help not only to protect our identity but also to protect our tourism assets…

Which province would you consider in Thailand as a sustainable, identity-conscious destination?

Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul- I would probably name Nan in Northern Thailand as a destination embracing the philosophy of sustainable tourism. Probably because of the strength and will of its local community…