In preparation for a speech on “Poverty Alleviation Through Sustainable Tourism Development: An Idea or reality?”, I contemplated a lot about this subject. It’s not that I cannot defend the reality of it, but my question is “Alleviation, at what cost?” Images and thoughts of elephants flashed in my mind. The exploitation of this humble beast is the cost we bear in creating a sustainable economy in the local community.

We were, for example, distressed to hear heartbreaking stories about elephants near our Lisu Lodge in Chiang Mai being overworked and ill – treated. We question the morality of exploiting humble creatures like this in order to please unsuspecting tourists, and provide an income for their owners. This is where we can see the cracks between the alleviation of poverty and the development of sustainable tourism.

As a company, we have recently decided to withdraw elephant rides from our tour programs.  We are grateful for the overwhelming positive support we have received from tour operators and tourists.  It is true that our action alone will not stop the exploitation, but we hope it will spark a new way of thinking.

We shall continue to help the local community near Lisu Lodge to understand the impact of the cruel training practices on the elephants. Discontinuing our elephant ride tours does not mean a loss of revenue for our lodge, but it does mean a loss of income for the local community, which is unfortunate.

In Thailand, elephants have been a part of our culture and lifestyle for centuries.  We once used them in fighting wars. In more recent times they were used for hauling logs from the forests, and doing other onerous tasks for the local populace. But just as the machine has taken over the task of the horse, so it has also taken over the work of the elephant.

If we do not stop this, we are feeding into more exploitation. We recognize that this issue is part of a much bigger dilemma that needs to be addressed collectively by all the stakeholders.  Whatever decisions are taken will affect not only the elephants but also their owners, and the local community.  It is important that all parties act responsibly.  We stand ready to assist where we can.