This fall (2018), we will be launching a startup in the form of a website that promotes ethical, locally-sourced tourism driven by the needs and goals of people and communities in Thailand. Our goal for this 6-9 month project is to construct a platform for information and discussion about sustainable tourism in Thailand, supported by research and local voices. Since tourism is on the rise but often does not benefit local communities, we propose a solution that will provide tourists with information to construct both an enjoyable and sustainable experience.

Interest in Thailand as a tourist destination has spiked over the last two decades, and the tourism industry has taken note. The tourist industry in Thailand is undeniably profitable, but it is also frequently exploitative, foreign-owned, and thrives on tourists’ lack of information. Travelers looking for information can easily find lists of the top 10 destinations in Thailand, but it's much harder to find reliable information about how to avoid exploitative services--let alone benefit local communities. Even for experienced travelers, visiting Thailand can present a real moral dilemma.

Our goal is to change Thai tourism and make it more consistent with the visions of local people and business owners. We will research and interview sustainable businesses and individuals, and share the information and viewpoints from these interviews through articles and video recommendations that highlight commendable programs and activities. We intend to create a service that does not yet exist: a platform devoted to educating tourists through conversation with individuals who are directly impacted by tourism.

This project has the potential to change the way businesses and NGOs view and interact with tourism. The tourism industry is ready for an ethical transformation, and with our unique skills, experiences, and connections, we believe we will be able to start this shift and create a self-sustaining resource in the process.

Our team studied in Thailand, and had the opportunity to learn to speak Thai, learn local customs and values, and spent several months living and forming relationships with individuals and communities impacted by the growth of Thai tourism. Thanks to our pre-established connections with local Thai citizens, business owners, and expatriates dedicated to sustainable development, we already have the connections we need to get our website up and running. In fact, these connections are the most important part of our plan: instead of telling people how we think they should travel, we'll talk with local people and let them tell us how they think it should be done.

An example of the kind of  the kind of community and business we will highlight on our site:

Koh Lipe is an island off the coast of southern Thailand that was once home to a small indigenous fishing population. However, Lipe is part of an island archipelago ringed by vibrant coral reefs, and it soon became prime real estate. Although the island is part of a national park, developers were able to create illegal land titles and force the indigenous population off their land. Today, they live in  a slum in the center of the island, and are cut off from the amenities tourism has fostered, such as electricity, clean drinking water, and toiletries.

However, the villagers do have one asset--a small strip of land along the coast called Sanom Beach--which they have developed as a resort. Sanom Beach is the only locally owned business on the island, and an important stream of income for the community. At the same time, it provides excellent access to the beach and surrounding sea, and comfortable bungalows. This is a perfect example of the kind of business we will highlight: one that is both a great place to stay and a part of the local community.

With your help, we can fundamentally change the way people travel in Thailand.
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Christopher Perrin 
Wilmette, IL
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