Changes induced by tourism development in a rural community: a case study of the Golden Triangle, Thailand




Boonchote, Thawatchai

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The focus of this study is to investigate changes induced by rapid tourism development in a Tai Yai village, Ban Sob Ruak (BSR), in the Golden Triangle of northern Thailand. From the geographical point of view, the transformation of the village can be regarded as a change of place, while from the sociological point of view, the transformation can be explained in the context of modernization. These two closely related aspects of change were examined in this study in the context of modernization theory and the concepts of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. The study gathered data through use of surveys, in-depth interviews, field checks, aerial photographs and consultative meetings. Three sets of structured questionnaires were developed for three surveys. Major findings of the study suggest that: (1) During a period of less than 10 years, tourism has contributed to significant changes in BSR in various areas: socio-economic, cultural, land ownership and use. For example, one quarter of residents had changed their main occupations from farming to tourism-related jobs, household income and land values, in particular, had considerably increased. The residents of BSR, in general, have a very positive perception towards tourism impacts. The study, however, recommended that the monitoring of residents' perceptions towards tourism development in BSR in the long term should be undertaken. After nearly a decade, drawbacks of tourism in the village have emerged in various forms, e.g. increased social differentiation and materialism, water and visual pollution, and increased exploitation of forest resources by the community. These drawbacks, if left unchecked, may affect residents' perceptions towards tourism impacts in the future. (2) Tourism-induced loss of control over local resources, especially land, has tended to increase social differentiation and depletion of forest resources by the community. (3) BSR residents have been tremendously successful in the business skills required to benefit from tourism development in spite of a lack of external support. (4) The residents of BSR have adjusted in two ways to cope with tourism development, revitalization and adoption. The study results also suggest that tourism seems capable of catalyzing the modernization process in host communities, especially in rural areas. In terms of tourism management, the study argues that a community approach to tourism planning may be promising for application in less developed countries. Government support, however, is likely to be necessary for this purpose. Finally, it is argued that tourism can be an effective tool for rural development. BSR is an example of unplanned tourism development without support from the government. Public participation, however, made the tourism industry a desirable alternative development strategy for the village. Serious attention from the government is imperative if tourism is to be a successful tool for rural development.



Tourism, Thailand, Northern, Rural development