Trang banking on eco market
Ecotourism and community-based tourism are key drivers to diversify the sector in Trang, a southern province rich in natural resources.
A man takes a photo at Pak Meng beach in Hat Chao Mai National Park. MATHEE MUANGKAEW
The change meets growing demand for sustainable tourism as more tourists look to nature and travel with environmental awareness, said Banjong Naruepornmatee, president of the Tourism Council of Trang.
Last month, Hat Chao Mai National Park and Mu Koh Libong Reserve in Trang, along with Ang Thong Marine National Park in Surat Thani, were approved as the 45th and 46th Asean Heritage Parks at the 15th Asean Ministerial Meeting on the Environment in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
In Thailand, Khao Yai National Park, Tarutao Marine Park, Ao Phangnga-Mu Koh Surin-Mu Koh Similan Marine National Park, and Kaeng Krachan forest complex were already cited as Asean Heritage Parks.
Mr Banjong said the news about Marium, the baby dugong, helped build awareness about responsible tourism and eco-friendly movements. Mu Koh Libong serves as the largest home for endangered dugongs in Thailand with around 180 animals, with only 250 in the country.
He said visitors to Hat Chao Mai National Park and Mu Koh Libong are still relatively small in terms of tour operators. Some 1,000 people visit Hat Chao Mai each day and less than 500 for Mu Koh Libong.
"There is no concern about overcrowding affecting the environment," said Mr Banjong.
The province also plans to create new tourism destinations, especially on the mainland to attract the younger generation. One example is Wang Pha Mek, where tourists can enjoy early morning mist during November to December and canoeing at Ban Khao Lak.
Tourism packages related to social responsibility include planting seagrass, a staple in the dugong's diet.
The weak economy is expected to lure more Thais to travel domestically during the coming high season, lifting the occupancy rate at 4,000 rooms in Trang during the fourth quarter to 70%, similar to last year.
Nantawan Siripokkaphat, director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand's Trang office, said community-based tourism highlights local experiences and distributes income to villagers.
Some potential communities in Trang include Ban Na Muen Sri, where tourists can learn about rice planting, Ban Nam Rap for fishing and adventure activities, and Bo Hin Farmstay community, a locally operated homestay for corporate groups, said Ms Nantawan.
The province welcomed 1.17 million visitors in the first nine months this year, up 1.7% from the same period last year, and generated 7.77 billion in tourism income, a gain of 5.21%.
She expects tourist arrivals this year to rise by 5% from 1.6 million in 2018, creating 9.9 billion baht in income, up 10%.
Last year, some 85% of tourists were locals, aged 18-35.
The international market consists of travellers from Sweden, Germany, Malaysia, France, Denmark and China.