Initiated by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), the first-ever Elephant Wellbeing & Thai Community event took place at World Travel Market (WTM) 2019. Inspired by the increasing global concern of elephant welfare, in connection with the tourism industry, TAT hosted a well-rounded panel of experts and key stakeholders to partake in an open discussion about the topic.

Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Host: Ms. Srisuda Wanapinyosak, Deputy Governor International Marketing, TAT

Moderator – Mr Chris Lee, Head of Marketing, TAT LondonGuest Panel:
Dr. Chatchote Thitaram, Associate Professor, Chiang Mai University
Ms. Claire Jenkinson, Head of Sustainability, ABTA
Dr. Mario Hardy, CEO of PATA
Dr. Ingrid Suter, Asian Captive Elephant Standards

In the audience were a variety of international tour operators, elephant tourism businesses, DMCs and international media. The session was held as a first step in TAT’s goal to improve education and engagement with elephants across Thailand, providing a platform to start a discussion about the current situation and how we can, collectively, move forward towards a more favourable and sustainable situation for elephant- based tourism.

Comment and debate centered around these discussion points:

• elephants and Thai culture
• existing regulations and guidelines
• difference between captive and domesticated elephants
• best practice of elephant management in Asia

During the discussion it became very apparent that both the panellists and stakeholders in the audience have very varied opinions on how elephants should be involved in the tourism industry and a range of passionate views were expressed during the session. For example, some contributors said they think elephant riding is acceptable whilst others insisted a ‘no touch’ approach is best. The audience  heard from DMCs and tour operators that consumer demand for elephant experiences is still high, both sustainable and not, so it’s important that educating and encouraging travellers to make responsible choices is key.

Whilst it must be admired that many organisations are doing individual work to help the elephant, the group heard that organisations each approach it with different views and varying levels of standards which is confusing for elephant businesses and consumers. It soon became clear that this is a very complex topic with many sensitivities and an issue that can’t be solved immediately. Further discussion, expert advice, patience, understanding and a period of transition is required.

Ultimately, everyone at the event has the same end goal; to do what’s best for Asia’s elephants, to see a higher adoption rate of welfare standards by elephant businesses with no or basic policies currently in place and for consumers to be able to make a more informed decision.

As a next step, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is looking to invite a group of stakeholders, animal welfare charities and media to Thailand to continue the discussion and set in motion the development of a more universal set of standards that benefits everyone – elephants, their mahouts, elephant businesses, DMCs, tour operators and ultimately educate the consumer on how to have the most responsible and rewarding elephant experience whilst on holiday in Thailand.

ABTA will release their updated, stricter, set of animal welfare guidelines on 2nd December 2019 which Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) will share with interested parties in due course.

Source: Tnank you to Chris Lee, Head of Marketing, Tourism Authority of Thailand for thhe event summary.
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