Ecotourism and outdoor education equals Voluntourism
Shane K. Beary
Some see “voluntourism” as a bone fide tourist product in itself, to be
offered to the tourist market as one would do with any other niche market
while educating on vacation.
Some feel that “voluntourism” by its very definition should be a strictly
‘non profit’ activity and therefore has no place in ‘tourism’ at all.
Track of the Tiger T.R.D., a 2006 SKAL Ecotourism Award winner sees it
The company sees “voluntourism” as a genuine development tool, with
potential value far beyond that of the gratification it gives the
participant for having build a house or painted a school, and well beyond
the value that the ‘one off’ intervention has to the recipient community.
Track of the Tiger T.R.D, through its non-profit initiative VWB
(Voluntourists-without-borders) is using “voluntourism” to alleviate rural
poverty and to address environmental conservation issues.
It does so by focusing the financial and ‘hands on’ assistance of its
participating volunteers on the development of world class ecotourism
products, that will be owned and operated by the rural Thai and ethnic
minority villagers of northern Thailand.
Paying volunteers work alongside their village co-workers in the development
of the product. Accounting for the monies paid is transparent and covers:
food, accommodation, transport, co-worker’s day rate, and a fixed per diem
contribution to materials used.
one of the 17 waterfalls along the trail.
Funding for marketing and general overheads, is covered by Track of the
Tiger’s own CSR fund, and subsidized by donations from individual and
This clear separation ensures that the individual donor sees his or her
funds, and hands on effort directed to a specific task on the front line,
and does not have 60-80% of those funds absorbed by salary and overheads
The villagers and volunteers work at their tasks in an environment of mutual
respect that allows the visitor a genuine grassroots experience, and the
villager the opportunity to showcase his or her extensive ‘local knowledge’.
VWB’s first product, the ‘Pang Soong Nature Trail’ is a stunning 4 hour walk
along a pristine forest trail that follows the Mae Lai stream from the trail
head at 1’000 m above sea level back into the mountains, and over or around
some 17 waterfalls to the source at approximately 1’500 m.
The project is a private sector/village community joint venture. Track of
the Tiger and its partners own the Pang Soong Lodge, Outdoor Education &
Research Centre located at the trail head, and the village community own the
rights to the community forest through which the trail runs.
Under a 10 year Ecotourism development agreement, Track of the Tiger sources
funding and provides volunteers to build the features and provide the
resources for the trail development. The villagers levy an entrance fee for
each tourist using the trail, and provide local trainee guides with good
‘forest knowledge’ to accompany all visiting groups.
The VWB, Pang Soong Lodge and Track of the Tiger also provide training and
job opportunities to those in the local community who wish to enter the
tourism industry. The stakeholders have set themselves the 10 year goal of
having the future managers of both the nature trail product, and the lodge
itself, come from within the village community. Poverty alleviation,
environmental degradation, human rights abuse and fair trade practices are
all areas in which the tourism industry as a whole can and should bring its
collective influence to bear.
We therefore appeal to each of you individually for your assistance in
promoting and marketing the VWB Initiative, in order that it may be
developed to its full potential, and then replicated elsewhere.
Please contact us for more detail.
Shane K Beary, Email: [email protected] loxinfo.co.th or www.volun
tourists-without-borders.com and www.track-of-the-tiger.com
U.S. grant helps protect
pre-historic sites in Mae Hong Son
Entrance to Tham Lod cave in
Mae Hong Song Province
Pre-historic sites first identified in Mae Hong Son 40
years ago include rock shelters and dugout log coffins used by inhabitants
of the region 2,000-plus years ago. Under a grant from the Ambassador’s Fund
for Cultural Preservation, the U.S. is supporting the work of Silpakorn
University professor Rasmi Shoocongdej to involve the local community in
protecting the Ban Rai and Tham Lod rockshelters in Mae Hong Son province.
The preservation project is located in highland Pang Mapha, a small district
in Mae Hong Son Province bordering Burma’s Shan State. This mountainous area
is increasingly popular with Thai and foreign tourists who come for
rock-climbing and cave exploration, activities that threaten over 60 sites
discovered in the area, including burial, habitation, manufacturing,
ceremonial, and rock painting sites.
Pang Mapha is culturally diverse, comprising various ethnic groups who
migrated to this area, including Shan (Tai), Karen, Lahu, Lisu, Hmong, and
Lua. According to Ajarn Rasmi, “The project addresses the further
globalizing pressures that Thailand’s tourism promotion will introduce into
this area…. The prehistoric archaeological sites in this region are
especially vulnerable to curious or careless tourists since there is no
clear cultural heritage link to local ethnic communities. Although most of
the area’s tribal groups respect the sites as places of spirits, economic
inducements of the tourist industry have managed to compromise these
attitudes. Archaeologists must help to empower the affected communities by
teaching them responsible long-term cultural heritage management…”
Ambassador Ralph Boyce presented the $34,600 grant to preserve the
pre-historic Ban Rai and Tham Lod rock shelters, noting that these important
sites, evidence of Thailand’s ancient past, are threatened with destruction
and damage from unsustainable tourism practices.
Courtesy of the U.S. Consulate in Chiang Mai.