ECO-friendly tourist operators in Phuket will soon have access to low-interest loans to ensure the industry remains green and financially viable in the future.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, the French Development Agency has allocated 50 million euros to the project, 10 million of which has been earmarked for southern Thailand.
The money will be deposited in a Thai bank, and bank staff will be trained in the standards and criteria required of borrowers to be eligible for a loan.
Chris Dunbar, the Program Technical Advisor for WWF Southern Thailand, said the loans would be available to businesses which could demonstrate they were eco-conscious tourist-related businesses.
He said businesses applying for the soft loans would have to comply with conservation management certification standards set out by the WWF.
Applicants must conform to strict development, construction, waste management, and alternative energy procedures.
The criteria will be finalised within three months, and the first loans are expected to be granted within nine months.
Mr Dunbar said the profitability and longevity of Phuket’s tourism industry was directly related to the health of the region’s natural habitats.
“Every business should be actively taking steps to ensure the future prosperity of the environment, which is intrinsically linked to the financial future of their companies,” he said.
“Both the commercial and government sectors in Southern Thailand now realise that the Pattaya model for conservation is a losing deal.
“Across the board, room rates in Pattaya are less than in Phuket, mainly due to the flailing reputation caused by over development, inadequate waste management and high impact tourism without proper conservation.”
The WWF Thailand, its sister organization in Austria and the Natural History Museum of Vienna, plan to open a series of nature education centres and museums, including a new museum in Phuket.
Mr Dunbar said representatives of the Natural History Museum would visit Phuket next month for further discussions.
He said the new museum was expected to open next year.
Meanwhile, the WWF, Thailand’s Department of National Parks, and the Strengthening Andaman Marine Areas Network (SAMPAN) have hosted workshops at the Boat Lagoon, to form Park Advisory Committees to manage marine national parks at Koh Similan, Koh Lanta, and Mu Koh Surin.
Stakeholders from the private sector, including dive operators, tour guides and local
administration officials joined the workshops to select new committee members.
Mr Dunbar said the SAMPAN project had been funded by an injection of one million euros from the French Development Agency.
He said the workshops were a vital first step towards improving the management of three of Southern Thailand’s most treasured marine national parks.
“The advisory committees will help park staff to develop environmental education for laymen, fishermen, and introduce monitoring systems by bolstering staffing of the parks,” he said.
“They will also work with private stakeholders, primarily dive and tour operators, and will patrol the parks to ensure standards are being met.
“The next step is to choose the most suitable candidates.”
Mr Dunbar said he hoped the committees would be selected within the next six months.
He said the SAMPAN work- shops were only one element of a wide range of plans aimed at ensuring the future prosperity of the region’s natural habitats.
“Last month SAMPAN signed a memorandum of understanding with Green Fins (an organisation which certifies divers) to ensure correct standards are met by divers,” he said.
“There are still some after-effects of the tsunami which need to be worked on, and new learning centres and park staff are needed.
“There is always room for improvement.”
Mr Dunbar said the WWF was forming alliances to develop sustainable tourism in Southern Thailand.
“We want more and more people to realise that a healthy environment is absolutely critical to the financial prosperity of Phuket,” he said.
Last month, 22 heads of major tour companies (mainly European) came to Phuket to put pressure on local operators and local government bodies to use eco-friendly practices.
“These were competing tour companies who came together because they knew that the future of selling Phuket as a tourist destination would be in trouble if measures aren’t taken now,” said Mr Dunbar.
For further information, email email@example.com or visit www.sampan.marine operations.org