Tusk friendly travel: engaging the tourism industry to save elephants | WWF
Tusk friendly travel: engaging the tourism industry to save elephants

Posted on 16 December 2019

In order to try and impact the purchasing habits of as many tourists as possible, WWF Thailand engaged with the tourism sector to promote responsible, elephant-friendly travel.
Thailand welcomes more than 10 million Chinese tourists every year, and is one of the most popular destinations for Chinese travelers, according to the online travel agency Ctrip. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most popular destinations for Chinese travelers who buy ivory outside of China, according to a recent study conducted by GlobeScan.

According to the research, most of these purchases are not premeditated, and usually only happen when prompted by tour guides and operators. The majority of Chinese travelers who come to Thailand do so through organized group tours, which are required to not only be accompanied by a guide from China, but also to have a local Thai guide.

Recognizing the influence that these individuals have on the experiences and purchasing habits of travelers during their time in the country, WWF Thailand organized a series of events on Dec. 12, 2019 to engage the travel and tourism industry.

In the morning, WWF Thailand and the Professional Tour Guide Association of Thailand jointly held a training with tour guides who specialize in guiding Chinese travelers with support from the CITES Management Authority. Although WWF had held this kind of training before in the lead up to Chinese Golden Week in October, this was the first training organized to target tour guides that cater specifically to Chinese tourists.

More than 50 tour guides who have direct engagement with Chinese tour groups were active and engaged participants in the training. WWF Thailand presented the above mentioned findings of the GlobeScan report, while CITES gave an overview of the recently effective Wildlife Preservation and Protection Act 2019.  Under this law, the maximum penalty for transporting ivory or other illegal wildlife products across national borders is 10 years imprisonment and a fine of a million baht (about US$33,000).  

The tour guides present in the room were primarily unaware that taking even small amounts of ivory out of the country was illegal, let alone that such an act carried with it such a harsh penalty. Understanding the risk that being implicated in an arrest of someone who had been on one of their tours was eye opening for the whole group. They agreed to cooperate with WWF and CITES, as well as with their own tour companies and associations, to discourage the purchasing of ivory among their tour groups in the future.

“It’s critical that all tour guides who take Chinese tourist around Thailand are aware of the legal implications of promoting what amounts to illegal wildlife trafficking,” said Mr. Wirot Sitprasertnun, president of the Professional Tour Guide Association of Thailand. “We are very pleased that these participants were so engaged in the training, and hope that they will go back and become change agents within their companies and organizations. They can help transform this industry into one that is proudly compliant with wildlife laws.”

Following the training, WWF Thailand, in cooperation with strategic partners including the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP), the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Thai Airways International, LH Mall & Hotel Co, and the Professional Tourist Guides Association of Thailand, held a press conference to present the results of the #TravelIvoryFree2019 campaign, which has run for three months from October through December.

Although WWF Thailand has run the Travel Ivory Free campaign for the last two years, this is the first time that they have sustained a three-month commitment with such high-profile partners. Starting in the lead up to Chinese Golden Week, the campaign has reached tens of thousands of travelers with messages about the legal implications of purchasing and transporting ivory overseas.

As part of these activities, a quantitative survey was also conducted in five tourism hotspots among Chinese tourists in Bangkok: China Town; Pratunam Platinum; BigC Ratchadumri; Asiatique; and the MBK Center. Of the 214 respondents, 81% said they had no intention to buy ivory products in Thailand, while 48% said they understand that transporting ivory across borders is illegal. However, 51% of respondents still said that they think Thailand is a destination where ivory can be easily obtained, compared to only 19% who responded with Myanmar, and 10% who responded Cambodia, Hong Kong SAR, or Laos.

“The reason the Travel Ivory Free campaign is so critical is that we have to change this perception among travelers,” said Natalie Phaholyothin, Chief Executive Officer of WWF Thailand. “We must actively promote a new kind of tourism, one that is elephant friendly and environmentally responsible. If we can raise awareness about the effects that purchasing even one piece of ivory has on the ability to conserve African and Asian elephants, and the legal consequences of getting caught trafficking ivory, I think we can do a lot to change people’s hearts and minds.”

Additional coverage of the press conference:
A press conference, highlighting the Travel Ivory Free 2019 campaign in Bangkok, Thailand.
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