How Karens in Thailand are contributing to responsible tourism

Isaure d’Allard, is co-ordinating a hotel school project which has just opened its doors at Mae Sot, in Northern Thailand. Its aim: allow young people from the Karen minority to acquire the foundations for responsible tourism on a human scale. Conversation recorded by Jean-Matthieu Gautier, originally published in French in Enfants du Mekong Magazine n°169.

What is the reality that led to the creation of this hotel school?

Everything started with Father Alain Bourdery from Paris Foreign Missions (MEP), who has worked with numerous organisations to support mountain communities, including Children of the Mekong and IECD (European Institute for Co-operation and Development). During the 10 years he has been here, he has seen the region develop at a tremendous rate – particularly from a tourism point of view.

Omnipresent in Northern Thailand, tourism is beginning to hit the limits of the model: tourists are constantly looking for authentic locations, because of a certain idea of a return to basics and they are motivated by a need to discover original cultures. Mae Sot has this potential and tourists are ready to flock there. But how can scars be avoided from the savage development this traffic will bring? One solution: tourists in Mae Sot will be welcomed by the inhabitants of Mae Sot.

What will the training for future graduates consist of and what prospects will be open to them?

Above all, it will meet the standards of the international hotel industry,hich is the needs of professionals in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, the country’s two tourism platforms. Because of this, our training committee is made up of representatives from villages in the Mae Sot region, of professionals from the hotel and restaurant industry, but also of advisors from national Education. Actually, we want to give pupils a generalist grounding.

For two years they follow a course which focuses primarily on the practical and they will go on placement for two periods of four months. When they leave the school, the students will have to know all the procedures of the profession. That is why our centre includes a restaurant and a training kitchen, as well as a five hotel’s room. But they will also have benefited from courses in IT, English and also Karen, to allow them to re-familiarize themselves with the language of their origins and the foundations of their culture. All the young people board in our school, which allows them to recreate a family atmosphere.

What is the profile of the hotel school’s students?

We welcome pupils from the Karen ethnic group, most of whom come from families of modest means, live in the mountain villages and have a level of education equivalent to the year 10 in the UK. It seemed sensible to us to work with a group of young people who have the same points of reference and the same cultural background, in order to organise the activities and define the policy of the training centre as a whole.

The Karen and ethnic minorities seem to be poorly represented in the Thai tourist industry…

Actually, they are very involved, particularly at Chiang Mai. But unfortunately, they are in low skilled jobs. In fact, technical training is very poor in Thailand. Employees in the sector are primarily trained in-house, but the professionals suffer from this system because it brings a very high “turnover”: trained people are taken on by rival establishments who want ready-to-work labour, even if this means a higher salary. Discouraged by this system, professionals in the sector have got used to drawing on very cheap labour and making them work while learning on the job. This is the case for many Karens, to whom we would like to give an alternative by offering them professional training.

This article is the last of a serial of 5 about Karens, and Children of the Mekong work to support them. Find more on our work on

Article taken from Social Earth. Read original version here.

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