CBT Pilot Tours Organized in Tsunami-Affected Communities in Southern Thailand

CBT Pilot Tours Organized in Tsunami-Affected Communities in Southern Thailand

REST Thailand

By Potjana Suansri and Peter Richards, REST Project, Thailand

"Share life in our community after the Tsunami"

Eight months of rain and then four months of sun. In southern Thailand, this pattern is woven into the lives of each generation of local fishers. The sea sustains their families, communities, and way of life. In December, the end of the rainy season is welcomed as it ushers in the end of storms and a period of calm. On December 26, 2004, however, the sea rose up towards the clear sky and swept violently up the coast, laying waste to entire villages. The tidal wave destroyed lives and pulverized fishing equipment essential to local livelihoods.


Talay Nork Community, Ranong province - lost 42 hearts and 21 homes.


Pak Drium Community, Pang Nga province - lost 2 hearts and 27 homes.


Tung Nang Dum Community, Pang Nga province - lost fishing equipment that supported their lives, their hopes and their children's education.


These three villages, despite the depression following the tsunami, refused to give up. Assisted by each other and by donations from around the world, local people worked together to overcome tragedy and rebuild their communities. They chose to develop community-based tourism (CBT) in order to communicate how their lives had changed after the tsunami, and to share their inspiring efforts to win over challenge and get back to life.


To help these communities use tourism as a bridge to share their stories with the outside world, the Responsible Ecological Social Tours Project (REST) introduced the concept of CBT through a study tour, and worked with community members to develop activities and services for guests.


By the start of December 2005, it was once again the end of the rainy season. The skies had cleared, marking the transition of the seasons and the coming anniversary of the tsunami. Working together with local NGO's - including the North Andaman Tsunami Relief (NATR), the Wild Animal Rescue and Education Center (WARED) and the Rak Thai Foundation (RTF) - REST organized a pilot CBT tour for 40 guests on December 3-5.


Sponsored by the International Labor Organization (ILO), this pilot tour allowed the community members to test their new skills, and provided their guests with opportunities to experience local life, through participating in daily activities with their homestay families, learning about the relationship between the small fishers and the sea, mangroves and coral reef, interacting with local guides, tasting delicious local food, and enjoying fun activities like trekking, snorkeling, and relaxing on the beach.


The messages the guests heard from the local people rang with a common optimism:

"Without the Tsunami, we may never have worked together to develop new groups, skills and ideas."

The people of Ban Talay Nork tell guests that they experienced 3 waves. The first came from the Andaman Sea. The second was a wave of compassion, as thousands rushed to send money and life essentials to the south. The final wave was the machinery of aid, as local and international governments and NGOs made gargantuan, disjointed and sometimes conflicting efforts to provide relief. At the height of this final wave of aid, Ban Talay Nork, previously an unknown community, became a Tsunami celebrity. The local people asserted themselves and began to carefully select which projects to take part in. They are proud of many of the achievements of their tsunami groups.

"Without the tsunami, we may never have known the power of our community."

Pak Drium community members show their guests a flooded wasteland where only a single house now remains standing. For visitors, the contrast between 'old' and 'new' Pak Drium is astonishing. The surviving families have worked together for months to design a completely new community which is "harmonious with our lifestyle and values." Assisted by volunteers from Thailand and overseas, Pak Drium families have fairly divided the new land granted by the government, and built 23 new homes, a children's play area, and a mosque.

"Without the tsunami, we would never have been able to welcome guests to learn about our way of life."

Ban Tung Nam Dum's local guides explain to their guests that the tsunami was a turning point in their sense of community. The founding families of the village had migrated from many different parts of Thailand. Neighbors had enjoyed cordial relationships, but working alone at sea, many families had never been truly close. Due to the remote location of Tung Nang Dum, tsunami aid arrived slowly. The once insular families got together to discuss their problems and decided to work together to rebuild their community.


The pilot tour created pride among local people that they had turned crisis and sadness into opportunity and hope. Guests understood that tourism can truly be a tool for cultural exchange and supporting local identity. Above all, visitors left these communities with the message that hope, unity and resilience are among the core ingredients of a happy life.


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