By Kaisen and Lisa Betts-Lacroix

In this interview, Our Jungle House’s manager offers his view on the following questions:

What exactly is “ecotourism”?

How can people outside from the area learn to help?

How do we know where our money is best spent?

Kaizen: So what exactly is “ecotourism”?

Bodhi: Well, in its most common form, it’s tourism in the eco-system and I think unfortunately that really is how it’s defined by most people.  But to my mind eco-tourism incorporates an aspect of responsibility as well; of trying to not degrade the resources you’re going to enjoy.  And if you see human beings as part of the environment and part of nature then the natural segue to that is also making sure that it respects the human community.  So I prefer the term “responsible tourism” because it incorporates responsibility to the environment, to the community, to the economic situation and yourself.  What is eco-tourism?  It’s a marketing phrase.  It’s not in depth enough to really describe the practice.

Lisa: And so what are the important elements of “responsible tourism” to you?  What is it you aspire to contribute in terms of tourism, if you take away the marketing piece and get the heart of the practice?

Bodhi:  We have a wildly unsustainable global system that is extracting resources and producing people at rate that our planet cannot keep up with.  One side is to try and support the communities that are moving in a more sustainable direction and living in a more sustainable way and then the other part is to try and effect and transform the guests that are visiting.  When people go on vacation they’re open to new ways of life and new ways of thinking  - their minds are open to how they might change the way they live so if they can come into a more direct experience with nature, if they can see that the rubber and the cooking oil in their house comes from the destruction of the rainforest that they’re enjoying so much. The more people understand the system the more sustainability is a natural conclusion.

Kaizen: How can people outside from the area learn to help and contribute?

Bodhi: One thing that is important is that while you’re traveling here to try and figure out where the money you’re spending while is going.  Is it going to ethical people or not?  When people make economic choices they have a responsibility for where that money is accruing.  If I send a rock down a hill and then walk away, it’s still kind of my fault if that rock hits someone.  So, that’s one thing that’s important to think about when we travel; to ask where we’re accruing benefit.  Are we accruing benefit to people who are working for a positive future or are we accruing benefit for people who are just trying to milk tourism for as much cash as they can so they can go buy another car or another rubber plantation?

Lisa: And as tourists how can we tell?  How do we know where our money is best spent?

Bodhi: I think doing research, trying to be informed, checking in with the people you’re visiting to see if they’re aligned with that vision or not, generally speaking, trying to keep travel to more local places, not the large chains, not to big resorts, not to places where the standard of living is way higher than any of the villages around it.  I think those are some good ways to start.  Traveling with respect and acknowledging that responsibility. And then the other part is trying to generate some practical, on the ground good.  Just something small to know that your visit had concrete benefits for someone in need.

Lisa: Can you give an example of that?

Bodhi: Sure, well there was this researcher doing research on a fishing community up north on the Northern Andaman coast and she was sure that her research was going to contribute to a better-informed policy about how climate change was affecting global fishing communities.  But I wasn’t so sure so I asked her to challenge that notion and find something she could do as well and she found a kid with some development challenges and helped get him into a special school instead of just sitting home all day.  So for you guys, when you’re traveling, I guess you don’t have that much time and depth of knowledge but it’s still possible to connect with good people doing good things and give them a little bit of help.

Bodhi Garret
Bodhi Garret Bodhi and his family have made Thailand and Khao Sok National Park their home for more than a decade.