Tourism - The Problems & Solutions

The Problems


Over the 34 years I have been in Thailand I have established and operated resorts, restaurants, tour operations, experiential education centres and a non-profit organization. My company Track of the Tiger matches the projects run by that foundation in education, sustainable agriculture, agroforestry, 2nd revenue stream development, and responsible tourism for the communities it works in, to the CS and CSR programme interests of our international school and corporate clients. (Please refer to Credibility in the Conclusion.)

In researching the problems and solutions in tourism as outlined below, I have drawn heavily on my own experience and on that of many experts on the subject, who's research I have cited under readings, research, citations at the end of the article.

Shane K Beary
Track of the Tiger T.R.D.
(Tourism Resources Development)
Senior Consultant
The Volunteers Without Borders Foundation


The industry has long proclaimed that tourism has the potential to address inequality, poverty, and environmental problems, providing opportunity where it is desperately needed. Many tourism-related organisations and NGOs are doing good work in business skills development, marketing, and training for micro and small tourism businesses. However, their successes over the past 30 years have been overshadowed by the exponential growth and negative impact of mass tourism.

The industry’s shareholder profit-driven, commission-based model – is essentially a monopoly - and is the biggest obstacle to establishing the level playing field needed to allow all stakeholders in the destinations that host tourism - an equitable share of the benefits that tourism can provide.  

The Traditional Model - Exerts far too much control over the distribution of guests to tourism destinations, and the individual businesses within them. It contributes far too little to the sustainable development of the destinations used and takes too great a share of the profits. It also puts most of the burden of infrastructure and environmental-related costs onto the local taxpayer. 

Online Travel Agents (OTAs) - Share little, if anything, of the increased profits made by eliminating costs (personnel/overheads) incurred along their shortened version of the supply chain. As a result, they have more to spend on SEO (search engine optimisation and metasearch) used to secure greater market share. They make no contribution to local taxes and put the burden of taxation and of looking after those they make redundant along their supply chain - back on the taxpayer. It can, therefore, be argued that their business model is more destructive than disruptive.

Overtourism - Is the result of the aggressive promotion of attractions and activities selected based on the returns (commissions x volume) generated to the tourism operators who promote and book them. This comes at the expense of locally owned products and services providers who offer less in profits and capacity - but would have wider appeal if given equal market access.

The Numbers Say It All  

  • Commissions paid to OTAs (online travel agents) by tourism business operators range from 12.5 - 36% (driven by competition in a given product/area.)
    • The average percentage increases in locations where competition is intense or the industry experiences periods of decline.
    • Metasearch tools are used to prioritise search results for those businesses that provide the greatest commissions.
  • VAT – Local businesses are liable for VAT on the FULL price of their product or service including commissions.
  • Some 53% of bookings are currently made through online channels and are projected to increase to 63% by 2023.
  • One in Nine - Is the number of micro or small tourism enterprises that receive bookings from the mainstream travel industry.
  • Three in Ten - Is the number of micro & small tourism enterprises that receive bookings from the OTAs (Online Travel Agents.)
  • 70-80% - Is the ‘leakage’ - or the percentage of the tourist guest expenditure - that goes to the overseas agent/operator or is repatriated in service/management fees) from the economy of the country visited.

Revenue Models - OTAs vs Hotels

The Different Supply Chain Models

The Traditional Commission Based Supply Chain

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

The Customer

The Hight St Travel Agent
(Home Country)

The Wholesaler
(Home Country / Region)

The Inbound Tour Operator
(Host Country)

The Local Tour Operator
(Host Country)

Serves 1 in 9 Local Product Or Service Providers

Most local product or service providers are disenfranchised by the traditional supply chain which is focussed on volume and commissions – and targets an ever higher % of ‘guest spend’ to increase shareholder value.


The OTA (Online Travel Agent) Model

1. 2. 3. 4.

The Customer

The Online Tour Operator 

The Local Tour Operator
( Used only if needed)
(Host Country)

Serves 3 in 10 Local Product
Or Service Providers

Local product or service providers are disenfranchised by the OTA which benefits from a shorter supply chain but is equally is focussed on commissions – and targets an ever higher % of ‘guest spend’ to increase shareholder value.

The Damage - The combination of the traditional and OTA models undermines the long term economic and social security in all regions and host countries. Their negative impact eventually reduces the appeal of a destination, leading to an exodus of visitors who are simply moved on to the 'next newly promoted destination.'

An added problem is that In many cases, the initial good will and warm welcome of the local residents fades, as they are confronted by a class or type of tourist who is less sensitive to the local culture. The cost in long term damage to the 'old destination' is borne by the local community, not by the travel operators. In this age of internet connectivity, we must ask - are there no better options?

In evaluating the current status of any destination it is worth reviewing the highly regarded 'Butler's Evolution of Tourism Model'. which details the 7 stages in the development of any destination that ends in either decline or progressive action by the local stakeholders to rejuvenate and/or reposition the destination to secure its future.

The Solutions
See an interactive presentation

Lessons from Covid19 - The impacts of the coronavirus pandemic are a wake-up call for us all in tourism. They have further exposed and exacerbated the long-ignored weaknesses in the business model. We must take this opportunity to go beyond just implementing fixes that will get us through to ‘normal’. We must use it to address the real underlying problems that will ensure our long-term survival. 

A Viable Alternative - The development and adoption of real solutions are urgently required. Those introduced, must ensure that the host countries and their tourism industry members derive a greater share of the benefits of tourism, have more control over the type and extent of its development, and can better manage the risks of their dependence on it.

This is not a call that would damage the industry. It is a call for the introduction of an alternative model - not to replace, but to run alongside the existing model and deliver significant benefits. It is aimed primarily at attracting the growing responsible tourism market, who will help the industry to deliver on its long-overdue promises - correct the inequities - and build a better tomorrow whilst we can.

We are confident that the social enterprise driven model, established by the RTA (Responsible Tourism Alliance) that redistributes the benefits and rewards of tourism in favour of the buyer at the one end, and the seller at the other end of the supply chain, whilst restructuring the role and diversifying the revenue streams of the 'local agent' in the middle - offers such a solution.

The RTA (Responsible Tourism Alliance) Model
A Search, Research, Enquiry & Booking Platform

1. 2. 3.

The Customer
(RTA Ambassadors)

Combined RTA Local Agent, Ground Handling Service in the Destination and VWB (Non-Profit) Responsible Tourism Development Partner's Representative

The RTA Business Partner Network

All 3 Groups pay modest monthly membership fees (hosting & marketing services) and make donations to VWB to support training & development costs for the RTA Business network. The model is non-commission based. RTA Ambassadors also pay minimal time/work-based booking fees for itineraries booked.


It addresses the problems of overtourism by developing the tourist route system - supporting excursions from and trips between destinations, widening the visitor footprint whilst reducing the negative impact of overtourism on the city hotels, restaurants, and attractions, without penalising the visitor, or the local stakeholders.

The Tourist Routes - Serve to link the products and services of the micro and small business operators (accommodation, attractions, activities, courses, and workshops) in a logical manner. They are presented in a format that allows guests to research and customise itineraries to include their choice of unique and rewarding travel experiences on offer.

The model identifies more closely with that of new generation online social enterprises like ALOBI ( that allows local fishermen a much better price, and market access via a transparent fee based co-operative. The restaurant diner gets a bill for fish that identifies where it was caught, who caught it, what it weighed and what the fisherman was paid for it. The stakeholders get really accurate and real time information on the state of the coastal fish reserves at little or no cost.

Support & Collaboration

VWB (The Volunteers Without Borders Foundation), our non-profit alliance partner, is tasked with the training role. It is funded by donations from our membership – including those who would benefit from our extensive (non-personal ID related) research. It has a proven track record in working with schools, universities, and corporate clients. It matches their CS & CSR goals with the development project requirements of the rural area communities it serves.

VWB has won awards for its roles in tourism development (The SKAL Ecotourism Award 2006) and has won awards for its role in rural education and related infrastructure development in northern Thailand from the Thai Ministry of Education.


The pace at which we can implement the project will be dictated by the support and collaboration provided by the progressive members of the tourism industry, its representative bodies, and the educational institutions that provide its workforce.

We, like many in the industry, foresee a phased reopening that allows domestic and regional tourism to restart well before international tourism makes a return. The RTA platform is designed and will be ready to launch in June 2020. The first ‘tourist route’ designated for the pilot project has 20+ businesses signed up and another 80+ potential candidates identified.  The core tasks to be undertaken are:

Short Term

  • The identification and development of 2nd revenue stream projects of a type that will allow the participating micro and small businesses, (and those in their local visitor based communities), to generate income to help feed their families until business returns. These projects should be continued, to help manage risk going forward. 

    Note* In the short and medium term, during which city hotels will suffer economically, government and the industry can help by subsidising them as training centres. They can provide basic Corovid19 health & hygiene (and more) training workshops for the micro & small  tourism industry businesses, that once adopted will instill confidence in, and strengthen the argument for the swifter return of International custom.

  • Training new business partners basic tourism business skills, hospitality, hygiene, and responsible tourism best practices, aimed at increasing their market appeal, improving their product and service standards, and increasing business value. The benefits will accrue to all in travel today, and tomorrow.
  • The recruitment of experts and training of VWB Volunteers to assist with the training tasks outlined, and to help develop and upload the ‘online business profiles’ for each newly recruited business, to the RTA database and search system.

Medium Term

  • Continue the expansion along routes throughout then beyond the north of Thailand a soon as possible - bearing in mind that the template for doing so is in place, as is the platform to allow that expansion.
  • Offer the product at promotional rates to the domestic market during the initial phase of tourism recovery, when national/selective regional travel is allowed.

Note* The hospitality sector, and hotels in particular, must ask the difficult questions. (1) What if International tourism does not return for a long time, if at all? (2) What if the global economy changes dramatically and countries like Thailand must restructure their own economies, moving up the supply chain? How does the hotel sector adapt? Surely the prolonged Corovid19 problem will create a need to accommodate the elderly, residents & guests, those most at risk. Surely economic restructure presents MICE and a wider range of training venue opportunities for the domestic and regional markets?

Longer Term

Recruit VWB volunteers and trainee RTA Local Agents from other countries, who can learn how the model works, how to train others, and return home to establish operations, on a concession basis, in their own countries. The need for solutions is global and collaboration is the key.

Note* It is highly likely, that as long term concerns about our immune systems, weakened by years of unhealthy diets, in part due to our modern intensive farming methods, the world, or much of it, will pivot (return) to a healthier more sustainable and chemical-free food production system. Countries like Thailand have the potential and space to supply that market.

As those who can work remotely, (digital warriors) choose to move out of the cities into less congested areas, either full or part time to reduce their exposure, places like Thailand, have the potential to attract this market.

Readings, Research, Citations

“We have a finite environment—the planet. Anyone who thinks that you can have infinite growth in a finite environment is either a madman or an economist.”

                                                                                                Sir David Attenborough

On the role of the OTAs in tourism

The links below are to just two of the many articles to be found online. These both highlight the problems associated with OTAs

An article on how much of the tourist spend is repatriated (leaked) back out of the host country,

This article states that taxes collected are not enough to cover costs of tourism impact.

In The Challenge of Overtourism in the Responsible Tourism Partnership Working Paper 4. October 2017  Harold Goodwin  points out that OTAs are free riders in that they use the public realm as a resource or sell it as part of an itinerary for free and yet do not face the same taxation as the local residents.  More on this can be found in the extracts from his paper in the next section.

On the future of responsible tourism

The responsible tourism movement has been growing for some time. As early as 1987, Krippendorf, in his seminal text ‘The Holiday Makers’ published in 1987, called for a new form of tourism, one that:

“…will bring the greatest possible benefit to all the participants – travellers, the host population and the tourist business, without causing intolerable ecological and social damage.”

Kippendorf placed the needs of people, hosts and guests at the core of this new tourism and argued that to create it, we needed “rebellious tourists and rebellious locals” (1987: 107-109)

When reviewing the opinions and research of acknowledged leaders and personalities in this field, I came across some thought-provoking arguments. Below I list references, brief synopses and relevant extracts of their statements and those of the experts they quote.

The future of tourism: In a Q & A session with National Geographic (Monday, 12 August 2019), activist and CEO of Responsible Travel and Justin Francis talks about the unprecedented challenges facing the tourism industry - and travellers themselves.

On the Responsible Travel website, an article entitled ‘Overtourism – What is it , and how we can avoid it?’  states categorically that we are ALL responsible for overtourism and we need to own this. Francis refers to ‘freeloaders’, and places travel agents within this category. He notes that travel companies ‘have profited from creating pretty packages…’, but at the expense of the locals who foot the tax bills. It is an article worth reading.

The GSTC Criteria serve as the global baseline standards for sustainability in travel and tourism.  With reference to these, Justin Francis’s comments are relevant to our context here in Thailand. He notes that as a service industry, tourism is made up of a wide variety of supply chain elements and is therefore more inherently complex to evaluate than a simple product. If we wish to improve sustainability practices, we have to recognize that in different contexts, absolute criteria are unable to be met and that we need to recognize and reward progress rather than absolute achievement. At RTA, we intend to do just that.

Harold Goodwin speaks out about The Challenge of Overtourism in the Responsible Tourism Partnership Working Paper 4. October 2017. He, too, comments on the role of tour agencies. It is worth quoting extracts from his paper here:

  • Responsible Tourism is about using tourism to make better places for people to live in, first; and second, better places for people to visit. The aspiration is to use tourism rather than to be used by it. Overtourism …. occurs when tourism’s priorities override the interests of the local community. Responsible Tourism requires that the destination and its citizens use tourism, that tourism contributes to sustainable development. The state of overtourism is a consequence of tourism using the destination rather than the destination using tourism.
  • Destination marketing organisations – public and private – go on marketing the established honeypots as they are less expensive to market and success is more assured. Their performance is measured in international tourist arrivals rather than the yield or the spread of tourism to benefit areas which have a greater economic need for additional local expenditure by visitors.
  • In many of the honeypot destinations which are experiencing overtourism one of the main attractions is a public good: places and experiences which cannot be charged for. The public realm is just that.
  • The visitors and tour companies are free riders; they can use the resource or sell it as part of an itinerary for free.
  • Tourism makes extensive use of common pool resources in the public realm and takes advantage of, for example, museums and galleries, which are free or merit-priced initially for the benefit of citizens. The tourism commons are very vulnerable to crowding and degrading by tourism pressure. The industry enjoys free access to the public goods which are very often its core product.
  • The public realm is funded through local taxation – the residents pay for public toilets the maintenance of the fabric and the removal of litter. Tourism businesses are selling the public realm ...but they do not pay anything for the resource they sell.
  • Krippendorff argued that ………..(responsible) tourism must make life more “fulfilling and enjoyable.” It had also to be based, he argued, on a partnership between promoters and developers and the destinations, and progress should be measured in higher incomes, more satisfying jobs, improved social and cultural facilities and better housing. Krippendorf (1987: 107-109)
  • Responsible Tourism is about using tourism to make better places for people to live in, first; and second, better places for people to visit. The aspiration is to use tourism rather than to be used by it.
  • Responsible Tourism requires that the destination and its citizens use tourism, that tourism contributes to sustainable development.
  • The state of overtourism is a consequence of tourism using the destination rather than the destination using tourism.
  • There is a significant trend towards experiential tourism in many source markets with travellers and holidaymakers seeking adventure and authentic experiences of “other” places and “other” people. These are the emancipated tourists envisaged by Krippendorf, seeking ’emotional recreation’ through activities and experiences which are not possible in everyday life”. Krippendorf saw this as a “new travel culture”, one focused on “the satisfaction of social needs: contact with other people and self-realization through creative activities, knowledge and exploration.” (1987: 73-74)

Overtourism: Issues, realities and solutions. Ed. Dodds, Rachel & Butler, Richard ( 2019) De Gruyter Studies in Tourism. De Gruyter Oldenbourg 

This book is the first academic volume to deal with the topic of Overtourism. It contains chapters by experienced researchers in the tourism field, taking a multidisciplinary approach to review and explain the subject. Chapter 2 deals with the Enablers of Tourism and lists the fact that tourism stakeholders are fragmented and at odds as an enabling factor. It notes that resident and/or community voices are often not involved in planning, marketing or any other aspect of tourism. In addition,

 “…enterprises that address social and environmental issues in tourism and either represent communities or help make the community better, are often not included in mainstream tourism offerings due to their small size.” (2019 : 25).



Our belief in the power of the customer donations support system comes from our own experience in working with our International Schools, Universities & Corporate Team Building & CSR client base. Over the past decade these groups have donated over US$1.5 million via VWB to over 160 projects in schools and communities we support. Our projects in communities cover education, agroforestry, sustainable agriculture, and small-scale construction (water systems. toilets, classrooms, libraries). Much of the work has involved hands-on input from our clients.

Our first major project - The Pang Soong Nature Trails - a joint Track of the Tiger/VWB/Village Community initiative in northern Thailand saw us win the SKAL Ecotourism Award for 2006.

The projects in support of schools run from and have been officially recognised by and received praise and a National Award from the Thai Ministry of Education.

Community Voice.

Our 34 plus years in responsible tourism and development in rural communities has allowed us to discuss and understand their problems related to earning enough revenue from tourism, whilst avoiding the negative impacts from it. The RTA business model, developed over the past 10 years, addresses their common problems. It offers the communities, and in particular the entrepreneurs in them, choices from a range of integrated solutions, allowing them to decide which, and to what extent they want to implement these to best suit the needs, interests, resources and abilities of those in their communities. Their choices will help identify their training needs beyond those already identified and outlined below.

Business Skills Training

It not enough to just direct tourism to the micro and small tourism businesses. In order to level the playing field, we must provide these enterprises with the basic business skills needed to succeed and which will allow them to provide a high standard of service. This can be funded by our membership and implemented by our non-profit foundation in collaboration with others.

Best Practice Compliance

Rather than provide the businesses on our routes with a standardised format best practices certification scheme, we must provide them with one that allows them to adopt best practices relevant to their operations and context at that time, and to do so as they can afford to implement them.

To do this effectively the RTA business model chooses to provide them with their own databases – complete with a YES/NO selection option. It allows them to state what they are following, and for visitors to mark them on their efforts using a booking verified guest comment system. Again training can be funded by the RTA membership with implementation by our non-profit partner in collaboration with others.

Feedback from visitors is essential, but we have a duty to make these visitors aware in that in different contexts, absolute criteria are unable to be met and that they need to recognize and reward progress (rather than absolute achievement) if they are to help these businesses develop and reach these targets.

Many businesses cannot afford to implement all the best practices they wish to – yet. Post-Covid 19, income will be even more precarious, so client / guest understanding of context is essential. So, for example, planting trees to shade the sunny side of buildings, should be recognized as a move towards cutting down on power consumption (air con etc.) Fortunately, the majority of our client market is comprised of just those types of travellers Krippendorf envisaged - curious, ‘emancipated tourists’ with a yen for ‘authentic’ experiences.

Feedback from the broader RTA Community is just as important. Surveys to collect it must be well designed, well implemented, widely circulated and used to improve the performance of all involved.

Personalised Service & Flexible Pricing

In seeking to ensure that in this next evolution of online travel bookings provides  a more personalised service, we allow customers (RTA Ambassadors) to have their own online profiles on which they state their service preferences - through a YES/NO selection on their personalised service database.

Flexible pricing allows the RTA Business Partners to incentivise their offers through discounts, upgrades, and complimentary services. These are offered on a case by case basis.

The Research Platform

The membership based design of the RTA business model, its vertical search system, standardised collection and format display of members data, detailed records of financial and operational and reporting along the supply chain. That is supported by a  strict regime of socio-economic and related studies that together provide furtile ground for comprehensive qualitative and quantitative research - of great value to the tourism industry - and of those influenced by its trends and performance.
This research is made available to our registered development partners in recognition of their support in donor funding the our non-profit arm to support their development role.


Whilst it is validating to know that our ideas at RTA are in alignment with current progressive thinking, I believe that much more must be done in order to bring about the changes needed. The introduction of the RTAs proposed non-commission-based business model is the catalyst needed to deliver on the long overdue promise of tourism as the means by which we will create opportunity and reduce inequality worldwide. 


Krippendorf, J., & Andrassy, V. (1987). The holidaymakers: Understanding the impact of travel and leisure, Butterworth Heinemann

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