Creative Tourism in Thailand – A new generation of sustainable tourism or just a temporary trend?

“Ars longa, vita brevis” – Even the ancient Greek philosopher Hippocrates has already known that art lasts forever whereas life could suddenly disappear. Art is as old as humanity itself. It has gone through a huge evolution from simple cage carvings by the first Neolithic human beings over impressively skilled and innovative well known artists such as Leonardo da Vinci with his Mona Lisa which is everywhere, as caricature version with a moustache on T-shirts or overly expensive Louvre post cards. Nowadays some of us even has to ask themselves the popular question is that art or can that be thrown away when visiting a modern art museum. In fact, art has come a long way and can appear in many different shapes and characters. Thailand as a country with a rich cultural heritage provides over various forms of art some hundreds of years old and some relatively new invented handcrafts. To get the term clear – we are talking about diverse activities like traditional palm weaving, glass bead making, Muay Thai Boxing, learning how to play nearly forgotten instruments but also ordinary things at first glance such as cooking and making super sweet desserts. Every single one of them is a form of art representing the local Thai culture as well as their own unique way of life.

"Ars longa, vita brevis" elephant statue with Thai artwork

“Ars longa, vita brevis” elephant statue with Thai artwork found in Bangkok

 

Tourism and Art? Yes, they are a perfect match

Why should this now be interesting for the tourism industry and its professionals or those aspiring so to be? Easy: Imagine travelling around Thailand as a tourist exploring all the marvellous beaches with bright white sand, warm and crystal clear water and the obligatory tree swing. Perfect components for the perfect Instagram picture with the hashtag paradise and instatravel you get a million likes for. But in the end they all look the same. So you seek for more. This is where creative tourism comes into the game. I will be honest with you: It is not new that people travel somewhere to find their creative streak. Goethe has travelled to Italy to write poems, Picasso went to the city of lights Paris to paint and Angus Young from AC/DC owns a house in a small town in the Netherlands with a huge recording studio to write songs for the next album. Simplified, the new thing is to make a package out of it, offer it to tourists and call it creative tourism. Raymond and Richards define it as a form of “tourism which offers visitors the opportunity to develop their creative potential through active participation in courses and learning experiences which are characteristic of the holiday destination where they are taken”. It is a relatively new phenomenon which appeared in the tourism cosmos around the years of the 2000s which makes it a new generation of tourism. By involving the tourists themselves and the locals in the design of the products a co-creation is generated. Overall this leads to a higher satisfaction with both the tourists and the locals. A win-win situation is nearly guaranteed; what do you want more from a sustainable tourism product.

Sounds good so far. But how do you know it is a new sustainable form of tourism with a great potential and not only a trend fading away in the next season of the fast developing industry. There are some aspects which make it special and quite likely to not disappear as quickly as it popped up on the screen. Among many other little reasons there are some benefits of creative tourism which cannot be denied. Here comes a list of the five most important reasons from which you can already guess how big the potential of creative tourism for Thailand really is.

1. No need to be afraid of high investment costs

Let’s talk about the money first. One great advantage is that there is no big investment necessary to establish creative tourism products. Especially for a country like Thailand this is good news. Small communities far away from mass tourism don’t have much money to invest but a lot of other values like traditional handicraft they could share with tourists. The only thing that needs to be done is optimizing the existing base, so the tangible and intangible heritage. Examples for tangible heritage can be the typical Thai houses or the natural environment the community lives in. Within these resources the intangible heritage can take place. This is what gives the creative tourism its heart and soul. All the creative activities mentioned before can be classified as intangible heritage. If the creative part of it is brought back to life again the essential core of the touristic product has already been built. From that on it can be optimized step by step.

2. Quality instead of quantity

Mass tourism is the enemy in terms of sustainability. Particularly on many formerly beautiful islands in Thailand it has become a problem. Too many tourists leaving too many trash and destroy the natural environment slowly but surely. Therefore, the aim is receiving less tourists of a higher quality. They have a high added value because they bring purchasing power and simultaneously have lower negative impacts on local resources. Guess what, creative tourism mainly attracts this kind of tourist. The creative tourist has a higher degree of education, has social and practical skills and a higher income than the average tourist. He might be more demanding because he expects a lot during his holiday but he is also willing to spend a large part of his budget on creative activities.

3. Local pride brought back to life

Through the tourists who travel to local communities to learn from them their traditional handcrafts for example, something good happens to their self-confidence. Namely the local pride returns. People might take their daily life habits for granted so they are not able to see the value of it anymore and it fades away over the years. Tourists from different cultures however are interested in the culture and tradition of the locals. It makes them aware again of their cultural heritage in a way that let them have a view on it from a different perspective, from the touristic perspective. Creative traveller will come to experience their way of life and want to be taught how to do something the local style. Exactly this new interest brings back the pride for their own local culture.

Traditional palm weaving in the community Ban Rim Klong

Traditional palm weaving in the community Ban Rim Klong

4. Creativity has no season

No peak season, no low season, no problems. Creative tourism has a deseasonalizing character which indicates that there is no special season. It rather can be implemented throughout the entire year. For the locals it means a better distribution of the tourist activity along the year as a whole and for the tourist it means that they are not bound by certain travel times but can decide independently when they want to go on a journey.

5. Releasing visitor pressure

Visitor pressure occurs when there are more tourists at one place than it can carry. The carrying capacity is exceeded and it is just too crowded to enjoy the pleasant atmosphere of one certain spot. Unfortunately, that can make a whole destination unattractive or dull the image which has been built up over years. In this case, creative tourism helps with a sort of geographical outsourcing. Due to the minor interest of creative tourists in ordinary and typically overrun tourist attractions they search for different places and activities. Fortunately, this behaviour contributes to a better spatial distribution within one destination.

Making the local Thai dessert black sticky rice in Bang Nam Phueng

Making the local Thai dessert black sticky rice in Bang Nam Phueng

Keeping all this in mind let’s come back to the quintessential question whether creative tourism has the potential of being a new generation of sustainable tourism or whether it is just a temporary trend. Well the main advantages should be quite obvious now but what do you think? Have you made the same observations or have you already participated in a creative tourism activity?

To underline the point of view that creative tourism has great potential to establish sustainable tourism products on the market of the tourism industry I would like to quote Jelincic and Zuvela: “Creative tourism is a projection of a new tourism in which natural, cultural and personal resources are not manipulated and exploited but valued and enriched.“

All in all, it portrays a great sustainable and active opportunity to make the different forms of art of a rich culture lasting and prevent them from fading away time after time.

Sources

ATLAS (2009). ATLAS Cultural Tourism Research Project. Retrieved from http://www.tram-research.com/atlas/presentation.htm

DASTA (2016). Creative Tourism Thailand. Retrieved from http://www.dasta.or.th/creativetourism/en/creativetourism-2/528-2.html

Jelinčić, D. A. and Žuvela, A. (2012). Facing the Challenge? Creative Tourism in Croatia. Journal of Tourism Consumption and Practice, 4, 2.

OECD (2009) The Impact of Culture on Tourism. Paris: OECD

Richards, G. and Raymond, C. (2000). Creative tourism. ATLAS News 23, 16-20.

Richards, G. (2001) The Development of Cultural Tourism in Europe. In Richards, G. (Ed.): Cultural Attractions and European Tourism. Wallingford: CABI

Richards, G. (2011). Creativity and tourism: The state of the art. Annals of Tourism Research, 38, 4, 1225 –1253.

Timothy, D. J. and Boyd, S. W. (2003). Heritage Tourism. Essex: Pearson Education Limited

UNESCO Creative Cities Network (2006) Towards Sustainable Strategies for Creative Tourism: Discussion Report of the Planning Meeting for 2008 International Conference on Creative Tourism. Santa Fe, New Mexico, U.S.A. October 25-27, 2006. Retrieved from http://portal.unesco.org/culture/fr/files/34633/11848588553oct2006_meeting_report.pdf/oct2006_meeting_report.pdf

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