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10 ways to support local communities and cultures

From simple acts to grand gestures

Thailand’s popularity as a travel destination is rooted in its communities and cultures. As hoteliers, we are community members and play an important role in the lives of those that live around us, potentially bringing both opportunity and disruption. With the right actions, we can ensure that tourism enhances the nation, rather than harming it.

Now more than ever, as the world reels from the impact of COVID-19, we have an opportunity to do things differently. As tourists come back out of self-isolation, looking to see the world again, we have the chance to show the wonder of Thai culture and offer a truly unforgettable experience. This is your chance to show your guests that you care about people as well as profits – both the people visiting Thailand and those that live here.

Ready to explore how you can help?

1. Integrate local cultural elements into the hotel environment use local products, decorations and even architecture

When your guests have travelled far from their own country and culture, offering an accommodation experience that has no local flavor and culture cheapens the experience. By featuring local cultural elements on the menu, in rooms and even in the basic design of the building, you are setting the tone of the stay – one in which Thai culture plays a starring role.

You can give your hotel that genuine Thai ambience by using locally made bed linens, tablecloths, curtains and even staff uniforms. The beauty and quality of Thai silk is famous the world over, and other materials made here are also exceptional. There’s also the famous Thai cuisine: As the trend of sustainable lifestyles gains momentum globally, you'll find that “imported daily“ will have less of an impact on guests than “grown locally.“ By using local producers, you can also cut down on your food's carbon footprint, minimize the use of plastic packaging and save money.

2. Avoid over-commercialization of local cultural products be tasteful

Some attempts to support local communities have arguably been victims of their own success. A prime example is seen with the Karen hilltribes people in northern Thailand, whose villages are sometimes treated more like zoos than places where human beings live. One way to minimize the risk of this happening is to hire members of that community as tour guides, as they are less likely to exploit their fellow villages.

The same applies to cultural performances in your hotel. For example, traditional dance performances performed by those for whom the dance is actually a cultural tradition are significantly more tasteful and professional than those performed by staff members who have been given a crash course in the steps. They also help to support and preserve those traditions.

3. Provide guests with simple phrasebooks and cultural advice add an extra dose of Thai-ness to their holiday experience

Many holidaymakers like to at least try to get a little involved in the local culture. In many cases, this includes occasionally wai-ing and learning a few basic Thai phrases. One way you can further promote Thai culture is by providing a free guidebook for each guest that explains some of the details of Thai life and society, as well as some simple phrases.

Want to go even further? Engage the local community to help offer cultural activities to your guests. These could include teaching Thai massage, dance, art and cooking.

4. Create an exhibition or display corner on local culture in the hotel also sell local souvenirs

Many hotels have spacious lobbies or areas that are not in use at all times. With relatively little cost or effort, these can be converted into exhibition spaces to showcase local culture and art. It doesn’t need to be a big space – just a corner of the lobby devoted to educating guests about the culture they are immersing themselves in would be a more effective use of the space than another potted plant.

If your culture corner is popular, you could even monetize it. Travelers are increasingly aware that many tourist trinkets are mass-produced and that buying them provides only a nominal benefit to the local community. Instead, they want their souvenirs to be something unique, interesting and representative of the memories they’ve created during their stay. Selling locally-made souvenirs in your hotel helps everyone – both the local craftspeople making them and the guests desperately seeking them.

5. Encourage hiring local staff and tour operators especially in major tourist destinations

In areas of Thailand where tourism is the main focus, the local communities need even more support. Places like Phuket, Pattaya, Bangkok and Chiang Mai attract scores of migrant workers looking for work in hotels, which can leave local families struggling for a source of income. Place a priority on hiring the locals as much as possible.

Guests will appreciate the local knowledge that they can get from receptionists, servers, concierges and tour guides who have lived in the area for their entire life. It will give them a more unique, intimate Thailand experience and you’ll generate some priceless goodwill and marketing. The staff themselves – and, inevitably, their families – will also benefit from skill training you can provide, as well as medical and social security insurance.

6. Offer tours into local communities to your guests or bring the culture to them

Among the main highlights for visitors to Thailand's mountainous north are the various hilltribe villages, while Sea Gypsy villages are a feature of the south. Each offers a fascinating glimpse into a very different culture and a remarkable, memorable experience. Offering guided tours of these communities, ideally led by members of the community, is a great way to give something both to your guests and your community.

But not all guests are going to be willing or able to head out on a tour to visit a rural community. That’s no excuse to not get them engaged with the local culture, though. You can partner with local businesses and cultural experts to provide a diverse selection of products for your guests, ranging from dinnertime dance performances to walks around the immediate area of the hotel and more.

7. Host awareness raising activities for local communities and offer training to local businesses

Help the local environment and community is such an enormous task that it can feel like you are the only one trying. The job gets a lot easier if you work with the community and engage them in the actions you are taking. Conducting educational workshops can provide more lasting results than a single day’s activity.

It also works in your favor to support local businesses. Having more and better shops, restaurants, bars and other businesses immediately around you is more likely to encourage guests to choose your hotel over more remote, isolated alternatives. You can flourish together be providing training and support.

8. Collect litter in your immediate surroundings or teach people not to drop it in the first place

The local community is as much about the environment as it is about the people and looking after the environment benefits everyone. If your property is by the sea, beach cleaning events make the coastline safer and more beautiful for everyone – locals and guests alike. If your hotel is further inland, there's almost always litter that needs to be properly collected and disposed of.

If litter collection doesn't appeal to you or your staff, there are alternatives. Some ideas include hosting a tree planting event to help with carbon offsetting or setting up large recycling bins that locals as well as guests can make use of.

9. Sponsor and support local community events and host fundraising events for local community organizations

You can give directly to the community in a very visible way by sponsoring and supporting local events. While monetary support is important, it may not always be practical. Get creative! Perhaps you could make land available for a fair or provide a showcase of local art in your dining area.

Not every hotel has large sums of money available to spend on community support and development, but that doesn't mean you can't help. Organizing – or even just hosting – a fundraising event can help support local charities without costing you too much. Events can take various forms, ranging from charity auctions to exhibitions, fairs and dinners. This is a comparatively low-cost approach since you already have the space, catering, entertainment and marketing channels set up. It's also a very public way of helping the community, which helps your reputation.

10. Donate a share of your profits to a local charity and make it easy for guests to donate spare currency

The simplest and most direct way to support your local community is to donate some of your profits directly to local charities or community projects. Some hotels in Thailand donate $1 from the cost of every room night, making guests feel like they are indirectly giving to the community – it’s a good feeling.

If you would like to offer your guests the opportunity to give more directly, you could make it easy to leave money for such projects, making sure you share about the importance to the community. This could be as simple as a charity box in the lobby or an envelope provided at checkout – an opportunity for them to get rid of some of the small change they won't be able to convert back into their home currency.

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