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DASTA’s Strategic Vision for Sustainable Tourism: An In-Depth Look with Wanvipa Phanumat

Wanvipa Phanumat

Discover the transformative power of community-based tourism in Thailand with insights from DASTA’s Wanvipa Phanumat. Learn how CBT creates sustainable local impact, empowers communities, and shapes the future of Thai tourism.

The Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration (DASTA) in Thailand is renowned for championing community-based tourism (CBT), steering away from mass tourism to create genuine local impact. Wanvipa Phanumat, who recently transitioned to Director of Tourism Strategy Management at DASTA, shares her insights and experiences that span a decade in fostering community engagement and sustainable tourism development in Thailand’s less-traveled regions.

Community Engagement: The Keystone of CBT

Wanvipa’s tenure as Director of Community Based Tourism Development witnessed her intimate involvement with grassroots projects. Her strategy hinged on securing community “buy-in” for successful CBT initiatives. This participative approach entailed extensive fieldwork and stakeholder discussions, ensuring community voices were heard and their concerns addressed.

DASTA’s holistic approach to destination development necessitates a nuanced understanding of the potential impacts on local communities. Wanvipa’s broad-ranging responsibilities included capacity building and market access, essential components for enabling communities to reap tourism’s benefits sustainably.

CBT as a Solution to Inequitable Tourism Benefits

CBT emerges as a solution to fundamental issues in Thai tourism. Despite contributing a significant chunk to the national GDP, tourism revenues have historically not trickled down effectively, with a substantial portion leaking overseas. Wanvipa credits the Thailand Community-Based Tourism Institute (CBT-I) for pioneering the CBT approach, initially perceived as NGO work and operated on a much smaller scale.

Under DASTA, CBT became a strategic tool to redistribute tourism income more equitably. By fostering local ownership and management of tourism resources, CBT empowers communities to directly benefit from tourism, challenging the status quo where foreign investments dominated.

The Hallmark of Success in Nan Province

The Bo Suak Community in Nan province stands as a testament to the success of CBT. Wanvipa reflects on the decade-long journey with the community from agricultural trading to developing a resilient, sustainable tourism model. Notably, Bo Suak doesn’t measure success by tourism revenue but by community development and the ability to entice the younger generation back to preserve local heritage and knowledge.

The success of Bo Suak has been internationally recognized, with accolades such as the Best Tourism Villages by the UN World Tourism Organization — a first for Thailand. This recognition underlines the successful integration of youth in CBT, ensuring longevity and sustainability.

Measuring Success and Dispersing Tourism

Success in CBT, according to Wanvipa, isn’t just about drawing tourists to lesser-known locales but also about enhancing the quality and duration of their stay. This quality-centric approach necessitates innovative measures beyond the usual tourist metrics. In destinations like Phuket and Chiang Mai, CBT projects have been integrated to encourage longer stays and deeper engagement with local culture.

Bright Spots and the Road Ahead

Wanvipa points to promising projects like the carbon-neutral initiative in Bang Kachao and the culturally rich Phuket Old town, which offer unique, local experiences and aim for higher market segments.

Looking forward, Wanvipa identifies two main priorities for DASTA: Engaging the youth more actively in CBT and enabling communities to operate independently through the “CBT social enterprise” model. This shift towards a business-minded yet socially conscious framework aims to ensure the longevity of CBT’s impact in Thailand.

In the rapidly evolving landscape of Thai tourism, DASTA’s initiatives, under the strategic guidance of leaders like Wanvipa Phanumat, are shaping a future where tourism serves as a catalyst for sustainable development and local empowerment. The intricate tapestry of CBT projects across Thailand serves as a blueprint for other regions in the Mekong Sub-Region and beyond, seeking to balance growth with sustainability.

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