Thanakan Kaewpan has been a member of the Leeled Community-based Tourism for Conservation Club for 13 years. The group is led by the dedicated sub-district chief, Chanjukorn, and is made up of a small number of helpers from the local villages. Now 27 years old, Thanakan had previously been helping the group by welcoming visitors and running errands, while his friends have also dedicated their time to the community’s tourism sector, without payment, out of sheer determination to help their community.
Thanakan has always had a desire to build a career in tourism and earn a better income; however, he did not have much education, was not a confident speaker, and lacked knowledge of the community’s tourism products. At the time, he was helping his family raise cattle on their small farm and relied on this to make a living.
This is an all too common scenario in southern Thailand, where many passionate young people lack educational opportunities and the skills necessary to develop local community businesses, while the region contends with environmental challenges and the knock-on effect of violence in nearby provinces.
To address these problems, Kenan, supported by funding from Chevron Thailand Exploration and Production, Ltd., started working with 10 community groups that make up the Leeled Community-based Tourism for Conservation Club in Surat Thani province. One of the key strategies put in place is to build the capacity of locals like Thanakan, to enable them to handle tourism opportunities better and contribute towards the development of their communities. Specifically, Kenan has developed activities that respond to tourism groups’ common management and staffing problems. With assistance from local partners, Kenan held 13 training sessions and workshops for both group leaders and 1,000 group members on tourism management, participatory leadership, basic business management skills, storytelling and online marketing. These activities are focused on revitalizing the area by building the capacity of the new generation, and training the community in online marketing, so they are better equipped to attract and handle tourists.
Inspired by the progress made by Thanakan and other young members during the training, they were given the chance by the sub-district chief to improve their skills further by participating in the storytelling for local guides training, where Thanakan learned how to present confidently about his community. The training was held in each community so participants were able to adapt the newly-learned skills to their local context. Thanakan went on to take part in the online marketing management for community-based tourism training, where experts helped him understand the basics of online marketing and how to efficiently use social media to promote tourism.
Before the project, the sub-district chief did not trust his tourism group members with the responsibility of presenting community stories to tourists. After the local guides training, however, he agreed to allow trained group members like Thanakan to share this responsibility. As a result of his newly gained knowledge and his hard work, Thanakan was made an assistant guide to the chief. Thanakan said, “I now know more about my own community, this means I am more confident presenting stories of Lee Led to visitors. The sub-district chief saw my potential and gave me the opportunity to become a community guide. I could earn as much as 3,000 Baht a month.” Thanakan has also taken on another role as the administrator of the tourism group’s Facebook page, actively posting and sharing stories of Lee Led tourism. Thanakan is well on the way to fulfilling his dreams.