Cultural tourism is a phenomenon that is becoming more and more widespread among travellers today. After all, what better way to learn more about people and their culture than by living with them and taking part in their everyday lives?
That said, it can be difficult to find a good travel agency that specialises in immersion tours, taking note of factors such as cost, accessibility, as well as whether their operations help or harm the communities that they’re operating in. Local Alike, a Thailand-based social enterprise, aims to assuage these concerns by focussing on local community development through tourism.
According to Founder and CEO Pai Somsak Boonkam, Local Alike was incorporated in October 2013 with the mission to solve three major problems in tourism industry of Thailand, namely:
- Unequal economic opportunity from tourism; Majority of income from tourism goes to big hotels and travel agencies, and there is no account of how much of it is spent to support our local communities who actually own this beautiful natural resource.
- Sustainable tourism in Thailand is being used as just a marketing tool where tourists are tricked to go visit a local village, but there is no direct participation with the locals. There are also travel agencies that create programmes to use local natural resources and treat local people as just a supporting role.
- There are around 200 established community-based tourism (CBT) villages in Thailand that are ready to welcome tourists, but there is no reliable platform to help connect them. Existing travel agencies only work with popular CBTs, which accounts for only one per cent of all CBTs.
With Local Alike, travel experiences are curated, and tourists are given a selection of communities that they can visit. Before a community is added to Local Alike, the team immerses themselves in it to understand the needs of the locals. Then, a consultative design process is undertaken to come up with strategies for community development. Below is a diagram on how Local Alike works:
Here, Local Alike walks a thin line between helping communities promote their unique culture, at the same time making sure that it will not be adversely affected by unethical tourism activities. The team acts as a liaison between local communities and tourists, ensuring that both parties’ expectations are met. Only then are the communities added to the site, for tourists to book stays and immersion tours.
Their consultative, community-centric approach has won Local Alike accolades, and they have clinched the top startup place in the Social Business Category in the AIS The Startup competition. Moving ahead, Boonkam shares that they aim to expand to at least 20 communities within this year, showcasing how sustainable tourism in Thailand and the rest of Asia can be handled. Additionally, he notes that there are investors that have expressed interest, and hopes that Local Alike can work with one of them soon.