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The Short Version: Local Alike is a travel company that empowers rural villages in Thailand to open their doors to sightseers from all over the world. Under Local Alike’s guidance, communities have come together to showcase what makes them special and strengthen the local economy. These Thai villages can give singles and couples the chance to enjoy cultural experiences, nature tours, and group activities that are rooted in traditions spanning generations.
Somsak “Pai” Boonkam is a socially conscious entrepreneur who was raised in rural Thailand and attended a university in San Francisco. After graduating with his MBA, he brought his knowledge back home by working with a nonprofit to train small business leaders throughout Thailand.
In 2012, he was visiting a village when he noticed a tour van dropping visitors off to take pictures. The visitors shook hands with a few locals, bought a couple souvenirs, and then piled back into their van. It struck Pai that such a brief visit barely scratched the surface of the village’s culture and heritage, and it didn’t make the indigenous people much money either.
So, Pai decided to come up with a locally run tourism model that would be more enjoyable for visitors and more profitable for villagers.
Pai founded Local Alike to train and mentor villagers in the hospitality sector. He worked alongside local leaders to create a sustainable business model that would showcase the people, the food, and the culture of the area.
Local Alike programs prepare villages to run tours that offer a more dynamic and authentic visitor experience. The business can include people of all ages and skill sets. Young children can show visitors around the village, while older women prepare food using local ingredients.
These tours tap into the resources of the community and highlight what makes it unique in the world. Plus, 70% of the money from Local Alike’s tours go directly into the local community.
Couples can go off the beaten path on a tour to these rural areas and experience Thai culture, meet Thai people, and eat Thai dishes full of local flavor.
“Local Alike is a linking system. We link the community assets to the world so that people will come and contribute to the community,” said Tao Watcharapan, Senior Director of Tour Operations and Project Development. “It’s a community-based tourism model, and we’ve seen that it works.”
Local Alike has worked with 150 villages in 46 provinces and created jobs for 2,000 local residents. Its programs have allowed the tourism industry to expand in more rural areas, generating more than 54 million Thai baht (or about $1.7 million) for these communities.
The villages operate under a profit-share model and create an essential fund to ensure a percentage of the money is invested in community development. One mountain village used its profits to create a storage facility to help with the collection of plastic waste. Every month, they sell their plastic waste to the local recycle factory and generate more profits that way.
By teaching villages to run tourism programs, Local Alike empowers these local communities to become more prosperous and self-sustaining.
“People from all over the world are traveling to Thailand because of its beauty,” Tao said. “There is a great amount of money being put into the tourism industry, but most of it goes to big cities like Bangkok. We see potential for communities to use their resources to attract tourists.”
Local Alike’s tours highlight the local customs and daily habits that make communities different. Visitors can learn about the process of growing rice or sample fresh grown fruits, and they can take part in handicrafts under local guidance.
“People can earn money by telling the story of their village and keeping their way of life going,” Tao said. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”
Tao grew up in a big city in Thailand, so he didn’t realize what the rural villages had to offer until Local Alike tapped him to teach English to the locals who ran its tour programs. Tao taught simple conversation phrases that they could use to welcome visitors, and the people were very grateful to him.
One morning, Tao said he had breakfast at eight different houses because he couldn’t refuse their enthusiastic invitations. His students would flag him down, grab his hand, and pull him to their houses. “I saw that these people had pretty much nothing, but they were happy to share what they had with me,” he recalled.
That experience motivated Tao to quit his job in the airline industry and join Local Alike as a full-time employee. “I thought to myself maybe it’s time to spend the rest of my life doing something for these people who need it even more than me,” he said.
Local Alike has empowered communities to host corporate retreats and tour groups that are full of unique offerings, and many American and European couples have been wowed by their time in Thailand.
The Thailand tours and workshops give people a chance to get hands-on experience and learn about the daily practices of small Thai communities. Whether they’re jumping into a muddy rice field or working on an embroidery project, visitors will make unforgettable memories in remote destinations, and they carry those memories back home with them.
The community-based tourism programs have had an overall positive impact on the villages, the people, and the environment because now locals have an incentive to continue old traditions and protect the natural beauty that so enrapture visitors.
Local Alike encourages locals to see the value in their family heritage and the waterfalls, rivers, and forests surrounding their villages.
“When we introduced this tourism program, we revived those lost memories and traditions,” Tao said. “We’ve seen families being reunited because of tourism, and it helps people preserve their culture while helping the community grow.”
Local Alike is on a mission to create more value in small communities and share a village’s beauty and kindness with the world. The social enterprise company puts whatever resources the community has to work bringing in extra revenue.
Some communities don’t have the capacity to run tour programs, but they have farms and generational recipes, so the team has begun working to highlight and rebrand indigenous Thai cuisine.
Local Aroi is a program geared toward changing people’s perception of rural dishes. Tao said they have recruited professional chefs to teach locals how to make their food look more appetizing to city dwellers and tourists.
Before COVID-19, Local Aroi hosted chef-inspired events offering a new presentation of traditional foods. The village’s chef would travel to the city for this event and share the story behind the food. “We found this inspired people in the city to visit the communities in the future,” Tao said.
Bringing fresh, local food to the city became even more important once the pandemic hit and Thailand went under lockdown. In the spring of 2020, the team fast-tracked an ecommerce platform called Local A Lot to bring food products (mostly fruit) from local communities to big cities.
This business venture has been remarkably successful. Within a few hours launching the platform, it had sold 300 kilograms of mango.
Whether it’s redesigning the packaging on food products or hosting events on behalf of local chefs, the Local Alike team collaborates with villages to find business strategies that work and add value to the community.
“Once they have the strategy, the people run with it,” Tao said. “So, hopefully, the communities will have even greater sustainable impact.”
Local Alike creates a positive social impact by powering community-based tourism throughout Thailand, and its collaborative efforts have helped hundreds of small communities thrive. By welcoming tourists to their villages, local people can create a livelihood that is sustainable and versatile.
As a travel agency, Local Alike can offer a more engaging and authentic experience in rural Thailand. Couples can have a splendid time during their stay with local guides showing them the area, teaching them crafts, and cooking authentic dishes.
“We see a lot of potential in the local communities,” Tao said. “Tourism is the main thing we do, but we don’t limit the possibility to only tourism. We always look for the good in the community and match them to potential clients and business ideas.”