This profile was prepared when Somsak Boonkam was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2016.
The New Idea
Somsak Boonkam is creating a one-stop service for sustainable tourism, designed and owned by local communities. He recognizes that many sustainable tourism initiatives in the past have been short-lived, either due to the lack of steady clientele or the inability of local hosts to compete with large-scale tourism businesses. In 2012, Somsak founded LocalAlike to pool limited resources of small host communities and increase their collective competitive advantage. He is training communities to redesign travel packages based on local carrying capacity, by forming collaborative clusters of communities which can share limited resources such as sleeping facilities, English-speaking tour guides, licensed trek leaders and computer-savvy support staff. To attract a steady flow of clients, Somsak has created an online marketplace for meaningful travel packages, generating new demand for sustainable tourism instead of pitting small communities against one another in a highly competitive tourism market. Somsak works with a variety of local hosts, reviving previously unsuccessful models of community-based tourism as well as diverting communities from financially and environmentally unsustainable tourism. To ensure financial viability, Somsak has reversed the profit-sharing scheme between hosts and tour operators, allowing for local hosts to retain at least 70 percent of tourism revenue, including a 5-percent contribution to public funds set up in each community to address urgent needs such as waste management. Somsak is currently working with the largest global marketing arm of Thailand’s tourism industry, Tourism Authority of Thailand, to redefine cost calculations for sustainable tourism packages, to promote concrete standards in fair pricing and sustainable consumption of local resources. He has also initiated partnerships with various national and international companies to divert mainstream tourism clientele toward sustainable tourism. Somsak is currently working with more than 30 pilot communities throughout urban and rural Thailand, and expanding to other countries in Southeast Asia including Indonesia and Vietnam.