Thailand’s community-based tourism (CBT) operators and beneficiaries are proving their resilience as tourism grinds to a halt amid the coronavirus, with affected communities returning to their main economic activity of agriculture or diversifying to food delivery to sustain livelihoods.
“For these communities, the money that they gain from community-based tourism is still a secondary source of income,” explained Somsak Boonkam, founder and CEO of Local Alike.
“They still maintain their core business of agricultural production. But, the latter has also been impacted because they have fewer customers, and face logistical challenges in moving products due to the government restrictions at the moment.”
Somsak helped spearhead the CBT movement in Thailand when founding his award-winning company seven years ago. Local Alike now works with more than 100 local communities in 46 provinces and has generated over 54 million baht (US$1.6 million) to benefit local communities since its inception.
Asked if the loss of tourism income worries communities, and how they plan to adapt, Somsak stated that most communities are using the downtime to prepare for the rebound.
The Local Alike team is also trying to help communities create other streams of income. Last August, Somsak founded the Local Aroi community fine-dining initiative, which they turned into a food delivery service since this April.
“We have to work harder on this (initiative). We haven’t reached our targets with the food delivery because the fixed costs are high. We’re also experimenting with e-commerce for local community products on our social media channels,” he said.
Another segment of the industry affected are freelance guides from local communities. “All our 20 guides are freelancers and about 50 per cent rely almost exclusively on guiding for their income. Most of them have been severely impacted – a few are venturing into new businesses,” said Simon Philippe, founder of Expique tuk tuk tours in Bangkok.
“As a result, half of our drivers have returned to their hometowns (mainly in Isaan) either to save costs or because they have other opportunities to earn there – normally agriculture.”
He added: “I think it is safe to say our drivers have lost at least 70 per cent of their income. Some applied for the 5000 baht from Social Security. A few received it but most did not hear back or got rejected.”
Expique is partnering with Food for Fighters, a non-profit food delivery service for medical personnel, to create alternative income for its drivers.
However, he added, they are “slightly cautious” about investing too much effort and resources into their food delivery venture as they do not see long-term prospects in the sector.