Spotlight on the eco-lodge blueprint

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BANGKOK, 7 September 2022: A presentation at Penn State University-Berks will focus on two of Thailand’s eco-friendly lodges in the far north of the country and how responsible tourism contributes to the well-being of village communities by avoiding the pitfalls of overtourism.

Dr Scott Michael Smith, PhD-TRM, from the Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management, MSME Business School, Assumption University, Thailand, will deliver the presentation on 11 October on the US campus as part of an interactive lecture for undergraduates studying strategic hospitality management, based on two of his research papers.

Research papers

The Communication of Corporate Social Responsibility: Asian Oasis—Mythical journeys in the Hill Tribe Villages of Northern Thailand.

Planet Happiness: a Proposition to Address Overtourism and Guide Responsible Tourism, Happiness, Well-being and Sustainability in World Heritage Sites and Beyond.

Asian Oasis’ eco-friendly Lisu Lodge in Chiang Mai and Lan Jia Lodge in Chiang Rai provinces are billed as community-based tourism trailblazers in Thailand, having won numerous accolades and national and international awards.

Asian Oasis built its first eco-friendly lodge, Lisu Lodge, in 1995 in a remote Lisu hill tribe village. The aim was for Lisu Lodge to become a place where visitors could learn about local culture directly from their hosts, the Lisu villagers. Asian Oasis also wanted the village to benefit from tourism, so part of the income earned at the lodge goes towards the village fund to support educational, cultural and economic projects to improve the quality of life of hundreds of villagers.

This same development model was adopted a few years later when they built Lanjia Lodge in a Hmong and Lahu hill tribe village in Chiang Rai province overlooking the Mekong River and close to Chiang Khong.

But like so many other community-based projects across Asia, the Covid-19 pandemic forced both lodges to close in 2020, with catastrophic consequences for the communities involved. Lisu Lodge in Chiang Mai reopened recently, but Lanjia Lodged remains a casualty, with Asia Oasis confirming the lodge is “still closed until further notice. And there is no fixed plan to reopen the lodge so far.”

It underscores the predicament facing eco-lodges and community-based tourism projects. They need a rescue package to get them back in the mix, providing alternative tourism experiences.

Smith’s observations from the Planet Happiness research paper will touch on how to create well-being and sustainability in heritage sites worldwide and tackle ‘overtourism’ using the Happiness Index. It seeks to measure levels of happiness and well-being to discover solutions that promote happiness and quality of life, preserve the heritage of local communities, and protect the environment.

The Happiness Index, available in 20 languages, is a comprehensive survey instrument that assesses happiness, well-being, and aspects of sustainability and resilience. The Happiness Index measures life satisfaction, the feeling of happiness, and other happiness domains: psychological well-being, health, time balance, community, social support, education, arts and culture, environment, governance, material well-being, and work.

Happiness is closely related to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the core elements in a mission to promote stability, well-being and happiness, leaving no one behind. It is one piece of the puzzle that completes a picture conveying the importance of the happiness movement as a new environmental, social, and economic paradigm to enhance the quality of life and sustainability for all beings.

“It is essential to start measuring happiness on macro (communities) and micro (personal) levels,” said Smith. “Summarised data and recommendations can be shared with policymakers and used to begin public conversations regarding community happiness and mental well-being. In these trying times, the happiness survey is an excellent tool to start the discussion with students about the importance of assessing and taking steps to improve their mental health. The strategy is for students worldwide to take the survey in the hopes that it will spark a discussion about happiness and well-being while they consider their mental health.”

(Source: A&P Media with additional reporting)