87
Lives Impacted
251
Travellers Visited

Mae Hong Son Hilltribe Trek

Mae Hong Son, Thailand

The Critical Need

Hilltribe trekking in Northern Thailand has been a popular tourist experience over the last 20 years; however, the product has not changed much and the most popular routes visited are saturated with limited benefits to the greater hill-tribe communities. There are several hill-tribe communities between Chiang Mai and the Myanmar border that have limited access to the tourism market as they are deemed too far and remote to access by tour operators. These communities mainly rely on subsistence agricultural as a primary source of income and utilize slash-and-burn agricultural techniques to farm their heavily forested areas. With unpredictable weather patterns, harvest and crop yields have become less consistent over time, and a means to develop alternative livelihood programs and income generating activities for the remote hill-tribe communities is vital.

Our Involvement

We worked with our ground partners, Community Based Tourism-Institute (CBT-I), to develop and deliver an 8-month training program that would build the capacity of three remote hill-tribe communities, and effectively link them together. The villages of Pha Mon (Red Lahu), Meung Pam (Red Karen), and Jabo (Black Lahu) had received limited travellers prior to our involvement. Trainings were provided around the topics of hospitality, waste management, sanitation and hygiene, sustainable development, financial literacy, and reservations. Further, each of the communities were taken on a "Learning Journey" to each others villages to experience what the power of tourism can do, and what they can accomplish by working together on their community development plans. Within each village, a community association was created to manage the various products and services included in this community trek -- the entire trek is owned and operated by each of the hill-tribe associations.

The Impact

All three communities benefit from income diversification. The hill trek creates job opportunities for individuals to continue to stay in their home village, retaining culture, and preventing urban migration. Thanks to their community development plans, ten percent of each tourism activity is invested into a wider community development fund. This fund is used to benefit the greater communities’ needs such as the local school, community environmental programs such as reforestation programs, medicinal herb gardens and sustainable fisheries. The community can also use these funds to allocate loans to individuals looking to start their own business, or to fund different emergency situations. Forty-seven families and a total of 285 people have benefitted directly from this program in it's first year, as well as over 1,120 who have benefitted indirectly through the community investment fund.

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