Developing and sustaining authentic travel experiences is “common sense” according to Rory Hunter, CEO of Song Saa Resort.
“Of course we want to look after our people. Of course we want to look after our environment. And of course we want to offer an experience to people who will appreciate it and feel that they are contributing to its protection by virtue of their visit,” he said.
Mr Hunter joined Kyi Kyi Aye, Senior Tourism Advisor with the Myanmar Tourism Foundation; Lucy Peng, Manager at Tang Dynasty Travels; Sokun Chanpreda, CEO of HMD Asia; and Inthy Deunsavan, CEO of Green Discovery Laos & Inthira Hotels on a keynote panel at Mekong Tourism Forum 2016, July 6.
The panel discussion was moderated by Yaana Ventures and Khiri Travel Chairman Willem Neimeijer.
One of the initiatives of Song Saa Resort, which is located on a private island off the coast of Cambodia, is marine conservation.
This started as a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program of the business which was was limiting so Mr Hunter spun it off as an independent foundation with donor funding that gave it the resources to do more.
The activities of the foundation would be “impossible without the business at the centre of a sphere of influence” he said.
Hotels have vast scope to innovate new experiences for guests, Mr Chanpreda said.
HMD Asia has set up a foundation for education, training and job placement, as well as a village well program. It is funded by donors and guests.
Shinta Mani Resort guests find out about the work of the foundation but are never pressured to donate. Yet they donate plenty.
Mr Chanpreda said guests don’t go to the property because of the foundation; they go for the quality of the property and the excellent service, which has been enhanced by increased staff loyalty and retention.
Mr Deunsavan related the experience at one his properties where 100 locals helped build tree houses and a zip line through the nearby forest.
With the forest now offering a sustained economic benefit there has been a marked reduction in both illegal logging and illegal poaching, he said.
According to Ms Aye, villagers around Bagan in Myanmar are key stakeholders in sustaining authenticity and broadening and deepening the experience of Bagan beyond that of archaeology.
She described the tensions between local traditional lacquer ware artisans and the purveyors of cheap imitations, implying that regulations and standards were sometimes needed.
Ms Peng said that more Chinese were interested in independent, authentic travel experiences.
“Chinese travellers are becoming more aware of the impact they have on destinations, especially in large groups,” she said.
The Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO) welcomes contributions from experts and writers on the subjects of authentic travel experiences, CSR programs, and business-linked not-for-profit foundations. Click here to discover more about our contributor program.
Presentations from Mekong Tourism Forum 2016 are available for download here.