TAT to invest in TOCA blockchain to build organic tourism platform – WIT – Web In Travel

THE Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is entering the third and most significant phase of its partnership with the Thai Organic Consumer Association (TOCA), which will see it investing in the TOCA platform to become a blockchain-based ecosystem, linking organic farmers, industry and consumers in a virtuous loop that will reward best practices in food and sustainability.
Speaking at the “Asia Arising” event, organised by WiT and Travel Weekly Asia, Numfhon Boonyawat, Deputy Governor for Policy and Planning, TAT, made it clear that Thailand no longer wanted to “rely on tourist numbers anymore but on yields. Fewer visitors, higher spend. So we are asking, what can we offer them, how do we change the supply in the way they want and work together as a team to offer quality tourism experiences, while protecting bio-diversity and the environment.
Numfhon Boonyawat: Building supply and infrastructure in a new way that supports a sustainable agricultural and tourism industry.
“This is why we are working with TOCA to establish a best practice model, to connect hotels, restaurants, other businesses and consumers with organic farmers – to get farmers to be part of a new technology and demonstrate how blockchain can change their lives. We are now in Phase 3 of this partnership – where we will invest in the technology to develop the platform.”
In 2019, Thailand received nearly 40 million foreign visitors who spent 1.91 trillion baht. Since its reopening last July with first the Phuket Sandbox, recovery has been in fits and starts, with restrictions holding back most visitors and the Omicron variant throwing a spanner in the works. However on April 22, the day of the “Asia Arising” event, it announced the scrapping of all tests, paving the way for a stronger recovery.
Numfhon’s department is responsible for initiating the partnership with TOCA, seeing it as a way for Thailand to build supply and infrastructure in a new way that supports a sustainable agricultural as well as tourism industry. Phase one of the partnership was during the opening of the Phuket Sandbox when the TOCA website was launched in tandem, and the organisation expanded supply and brought in farmers and hotels in the south onto the platform, while Phase two saw further expansion of supply from other provinces.
Arrut Navaraj: “This is a transparent system that tracks the whole value chain from growing to consumption –and businesses have to actually do what their PR says.”
Arrut Navaraj, managing director, Sampran Riverside and President, TOCA, said, “The TAT partnership is exciting because for the first time, the funding goes beyond grants – this time, TAT will invest in the technology and work with us to create an eco-system which will reward customers and businesses with Earth Points – an incentive system to encourage best practices.
“In Phase 1, we expanded supply to Phuket, Krabi and Phangan which was more challenging than in the north because there aren’t as many farmers in the south. In Phase 2, we will work on Bangkok and areas such as Surin. Now we have more than 300 farmers on the platform.
“The bottleneck has been in the rate of farmers joining, we need to make it easy for farmers to input their information, screen them and train them and show them they can make more money through our platform, which then gives an incentive for other farmers to convert.
“On the demand side, we will bring in Thailand Chamber of Commerce and Thailand  Convention & Exhibition Bureau and get their members to use this platform so they can earn Earth Points and offset their carbon emissions. Given the net zero target by 2050, we need to help businesses meet their goals and one way is to increase organic farming land.
“In Phase 3, with TAT funding, we will work with our tech developers, Mulberry Soft, to develop the platform in a way that we can measure collective impact. Once impact can be quantified, it will be easy for everyone to join.”
Navaraj said the platform would focus first on local adoption, by local consumers, corporates and the MICE sector, before being marketed to inbound travellers. “If they can create the first wave of demand for our farmers, then the rest will follow. I believe this is how Thailand should sell itself – a destination that connects travellers with not only quality food and experiences but an eco-system that supports bio-diversity and the environment.
“We will launch National Earth Points Awards by end of next year to recognise best practice behaviour among individuals and corporates. Earth Points will convert to carbon footprint points – if the big companies support this by sending staff to meetings in place where they can buy organic, they can relate it to their carbon footprint reduction.
“This is a transparent system that tracks the whole value chain from growing to consumption –and businesses have to actually do what their PR says.”
Asked why is it important for Thailand at this stage to have such a platform and ecosystem, Numfhon said, “The pandemic taught us that we can do tourism differently, that we have an opportunity to reset our industry, to go beyond the mass, but for quality and sustainability. We need to invest in the supply side as well as generate demand – the two needs to be balanced.”
One market segment that would gravitate towards such a platform linking organic food and farmers with travellers is the digital nomad and Navaraj cited Phangan as a good example of how a destination has transformed during the pandemic. “I’ve been there three times during the pandemic and it’s like it’s own world now. Full of digital nomads – all foreigners, I felt like  a foreigner there – working in cafes, yoga classes, spiritual healing treats. They are the 21st century hippies and I believe this will be a big trend and Thailand will do well with this segment.”
The TAT is keeping a close eye on this segment, said Numfhon. “Digital Nomad is a high-potential segment and we play close attention to how it grows and how to penetrate this market effectively. For example, we know the South of Thailand attracts nomads with nature that creates a preferable working environment …  Moreover, the cost of living in Thailand is also affordable for long stay. Therefore, by the last quarter of this year, an official website for this segment will be launched in order to offer products and services that suit their need, starting with the US market.  Chiang Mai is also in the list as well.
“However, a digital nomad visa is in an ongoing process.  The draft legislation for the creation of a 10-year visa for EXPATs with high income and digital nomads has been approved by the Thai government on January 18, 2022. But it has a long way to go.”
On inbound arrivals to Thailand to date, Numfhon said, “So far it’s longhaul markets – it’s interesting that even with many conditions for entry, tourists from the West seem to be happy to accept them and being the first to enjoy Thailand. Within the region, we see South Korean travellers returning. We will continue our marketing in longhaul markets – such as our virtual/hybrid trade fairs in Europe and US, and we have the Thailand Travel Mart happening in June.”
Asked if Thailand was concerned with losing market share to destinations such as Cambodia which was bolder in its opening, she said, “… we don’t want to focus on this. If Cambodia opens up, and other South-east Asian countries open up, it proves that our industry is ready to rebuild together and we can stand together. Tourism means exchange – we can learn together on how we can make travel safe.”

* Watch the full interview here.

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