The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has singled out our homestay experiences in Om Goi, Thailand to receive a Thailand Tourism Award.
The award highlights our Discova-exclusive homestays as an excellent opportunity for meaningful experiences for travellers. Furthermore, it recognises that the homestays, and the associated community-based tourism activities, provide jobs and income for the local community and works to support and preserve the Karen, Hmong and Lahu cultures.
The accolade was awarded based on strict criteria concerning the accommodation and services themselves, the plans for future development, and the project’s environmental impact. With our homestays ticking many boxes for the judges’ panel, we’re thrilled to be given credit for what we believe is a fantastic product for travellers and the community itself.
This rounds off a pleasingly productive few weeks for our team in northern Thailand. We recently confirmed that construction will soon start on a brand new water filtration tank for the village of San Mamuang in Om Goi.
Once that has been completed, we’re excited to welcome back travellers to visit our homestays in Om Goi in 2022, where they can continue to make deep connections with our communities.
We first entered into a partnership with the communities of Om Goi in 2012. By working with Discova, local residents have the opportunity to supplement their income through tourism by providing services and products to visiting groups. There is also an eagerness to share and celebrate their local culture and traditions with guests.
For our part, we actively seek to help out communities by providing infrastructure and management support. In return, we hope to bring travellers to get off-the-beaten-track and interact with those communities.
We look to enter into partnerships whereby we can facilitate incredible experiences for travellers while responsibly supporting the local community. This is the essence of our cooperation – a win-win-win scenario for everybody involved.
From this foundation, we’ve been able to build homestays in two different villages within the Om Goi district, with the possibility to accommodate 30 visitors in each. Both villages are populated mainly by the Karen community, one of the many ethnic hill tribes that call Chiang Mai’s impressive mountains home.
At the same time, we’ve managed to support the communities by building water storage tanks, a playground for the school, and arranging for mobile clinics to provide free healthcare, among other things.
Our homestays here resemble the rest of the village – neat, stilted, wooden houses nestled into the hillside, with bamboo-slat floors and tin roofs.
These houses are symbolic of the Karen way of life. There is always a spacious verandah where colourful weaving takes place. The kitchen is basic but takes centre stage in the home, with traditional home-cooking methods a matter of pride in Karen cuisine. Wood is burned for fuel to keep the home warm, especially when the wintery mountainside mist threatens to hang around on a brisk, bracing morning.
The basic amenities are covered; single or twin beds in well-ventilated rooms; electrical sockets and lighting; a regularly cleaned squat toilet with tissue paper and hand soap; 4G connectivity. While this is not the right choice for travellers looking to be pampered, it provides modern, clean, modest accommodation for those keen to experience life in rural Thailand.
What really draws in visitors to our homestay experiences is the sense of immersion within the community. While living under the same roof, guests develop a relationship with their hosts, eating the same meals and getting a feel for their daily routine.
Through organised activities, guests learn the skills of the village – basket wickerwork, weaving techniques, cooking classes, and ingenious farming methods. They also embrace the culture and traditions of the village through dance performances and ritual ceremonies. What’s more, the simply breathtaking scenery of the surrounding area is explored on adventurous hikes through jungle and rice paddies. The verdant landscapes around here are as much a part of the Karen identity as their colourful traditional dress.
By the end of a traveller’s journey at the Om Goi homestay, they leave having gained valuable insights into the Karen way of life and, we hope, a slightly altered perspective. At the very least, we know travellers leave with many fantastic memories of their welcoming hosts.
At Discova, we’re proud of the sustainability principles that run through everything we do. We embrace our responsibility as a world-leading DMC to make travel sustainable for local communities and the planet. We have championed a ‘local first’ approach to the way we work – channelling revenue to the local economy while also promoting and preserving traditional cultures.
Therefore, it is especially pleasing when our work is recognised for its positive impact.
The TAT was impressed by several factors regarding the responsible travel principles underpinning our Om Goi homestay.
First, the community-based tourism activities here have actively created jobs for the local people. From hosts to guides to skilled teachers, bringing visitors to Om Goi has allowed many villagers to benefit from an extra source of income while also developing business acumen. This refers to the ongoing training to ensure villagers have the skills to make the most out of their earning potential.
Second, we have earned credit for the fully transparent nature of all aspects of the project. In particular, regarding the funds raised through visitors, everything is open and visible to all concerned parties. In conjunction with the villagers, we decide on the cost of infrastructure improvements, whereas extra donations go directly to a villager fund.
Third, we have instilled our rigorous health and safety standards across all of our projects, including our Om Goi homestays. This is perhaps particularly pertinent in the wake of the pandemic that currently prevents visitors from entering Om Goi district. The current schedule is to allow visitors in from January 2022, at which time our companywide policies will be implemented for the foreseeable.
A further measure relating to procedure is that, having been recently ChildSafe certified, we have extended this training and awareness to the residents of Om Goi. This is part of our commitment to provide support, ensuring that all our partners are aware of the expected responsible practices of the travel industry concerning protecting vulnerable children.
Finally, the TAT were impressed with our ongoing commitment to ensure the project is as environmentally friendly as possible. We’ve undertaken various measures, including reducing single-use plastics, trekking between villages where possible instead of using vehicles, and cooperating with villagers to implement proper waste management practices. This is, of course, part of an ongoing process.
Receiving an award such as this is important to us. Not only is it a pleasing appraisal of our work in Om Goi, Thailand, but we see it as a glowing endorsement of our approach to our homestay experiences more generally.
We have applied the same winning formula to all of our community-based homestays, whether it be our rice-farming community in Manggis, Bali, our rural villages in Mai Chau, northern Vietnam, or any of our other fantastic homestay locations. We see that this supportive formula works for us, for travellers, and for the residents of our communities.
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