Icon NOW: Find Folk’s Founder Tackles Challenges of Sustainable Thai Tourism

Teerin Julsawad

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What’s in an icon? As part of Thailand NOW’s mission to share authentic insights into all things Thai, we’re spotlighting iconic individuals who have not only excelled in their respective areas, but influenced the complex tapestry of Thailand as it exists today and, in doing so, inspire us to be a part of the fabric of Thai society.

In this segment, we are diving deep into the journey of Jakkapong “Tontarn” Chinkrathok, the visionary behind Find Folk, a pioneering destination management company and travel consultancy. He opens up about his sustainable vision for Thailand’s tourism industry and shares insights from the past year.

Jakkapong Tontarn Chinkrathok, Founder of Find Folk

Travelers flock to Thailand, drawn by its lush landscapes, rich traditions, and tantalizing flavors. Yet, behind these attractions are real individuals and communities and who are dedicated to changing Thai tourism for the better. Jakkapong “Tontarn” Chinkrathok, social entrepreneur and the brain behind the transformative initiative Find Folk, is one of these people who sees both the need and opportunity for social and environmental progress.

Tontarn’s journey began far before he founded Find Folk. With a background in tourism and the sustainability sector, his experiences and insights have been shaped by his dedication to merging these two worlds. Like most others, he believes that Thailand’s tourism sector can be a double-edged sword of profitability versus sustainability.

“When a SWOT analysis is conducted, strengths such as biodiversity and cultural diversity become evident,” he explains, pointing out Thailand’s inherent advantages. Coupled with the nation’s renowned hospitality, it’s self-evident why millions flock to its shores every year. 

“It’s hard to copy. It’s not easy to replicate the ‘DNA’ of Thai people who have a deep-rooted service mentality and world-class hospitality.”

This dedication to service, which Tontarn lovingly refers to as the “DNA” of Thai people, sets the nation apart. “When Thais offer a service, they truly provide exceptional service.” He underlines the unparalleled hospitality tourists experience — the kind that is hard to find elsewhere.

Another one of Thailand’s undeniable strengths is its remarkable “value for money.” When juxtaposed with other nations, Thailand invariably offers unparalleled value, making it an attractive hub for diverse activities ranging from wellness and medical tourism to being a creative and experiential hub, according to the social entrepreneur.

A view of Wat Arun and the Chao Phraya River
Source: Sakdawut Tangtongsap / Shutterstock.com

But with great popularity comes great responsibility. As the nation’s tourism infrastructure creaks under the weight of its own success, particularly amid post-COVID-19 challenges, Tontarn remarks on the pressing need for Thailand to pivot from its comfort zone. Having been primarily branded as a “beach destination” and relying heavily on its natural and cultural resources, Thailand is grappling with the swift tide of technological innovation and digitalization.

“We used to operate a straightforward tourism model, and visitors came easily. But now, it isn’t as simple. If we don’t embrace digital technology, we’ll be left behind,” he says. The challenge for Thailand, according to Find Folk’s founder, is to embrace technology and innovation. These new territories are vital for attracting high-value tourism while ensuring the nation’s natural and cultural treasures are preserved for generations to come.

Another major challenge, Tontarn opines, is the global shift towards sustainable tourism. As discussions around carbon footprints and sustainable tourism practices become mainstream, there’s an urgency to be not just a part of the conversation but to lead it. However, the road to sustainable tourism is fraught with complexities.

We might ultimately fall behind because addressing this issue is a global ‘forced move.’ If we don’t act on this, our country’s destination branding won’t change.”

For Tontarn, the response to these challenges isn’t just about retrofitting the old ways but pioneering new paths. Find Folk’s mission is to revolutionize the tourism sector from the ground up. In the year since they clinched the “Best in Show” Award at the Impact NOW event, Find Folk has doubled down on its efforts, expecting 100% growth in 2023. The “Go Green Booking” platform, a brainchild of the Find Folk initiative, seeks to pioneer a low-carbon tourism model. The web platform recommends Thai accommodations, spas, restaurants, community markets, and products based on their carbon footprint and carbon offset. The unveiling of their “Go Green Booking” platform is a testament to their dedication. 

Find Folk receiving the Impact NOW award

“The platform is now live, but we will have a major promotion in November for its launch. There will be 10 routes that we will promote in collaboration with the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), offering a 50% discount for responsible tourists,” Tontarn conveys with palpable excitement. The goal is clear: carbon-neutral tourism.

As the world looks to Thailand for its next holiday, the Find Folk team is working tirelessly behind the scenes for a vision where sandy beaches, bustling street markets, and tranquil temples coexist harmoniously with cutting-edge technology and sustainable practices.

However, the challenges faced by the tourism sector aren’t restricted to Thailand. The tourism industry is an intertwined web of cross-border dependencies. It demands cooperation on a global scale. Tontarn’s hopes for the global tourism sector are rooted in deeper education and understanding.

Sustainable tourism isn’t a solo endeavor; it thrives on cooperation and partnerships.”

“It’s vital for us to be more aware that the tourism industry consumes the world’s and a country’s resources,” Tontarn emphasizes. “Every industry is aiming to become net zero, which is commendable. But the industry that will take the longest to achieve net zero is the tourism industry. It relies heavily on collaboration.”

This isn’t merely about governmental policies or corporate strategies. It’s about everyone involved, from grassroots organizations to massive enterprises. To truly transform, there’s a need to pivot from a pure focus on quantity to an appreciation of quality.

“A single person or organization can maybe influence 200 communities, but with more hands on deck, this can quickly scale up to 10,000 communities.”

For those mesmerized by the idea of sustainable tourism and considering their own ventures, Tontarn’s message is clear. “I must applaud and warmly welcome anyone or everyone who aspires to engage in this line of business. Just the mere thought of initiating a social-centric business or creating a social enterprise to contribute positively to the tourism industry is commendable,” he expresses. 

Nevertheless, he underscores the importance of ensuring profitability, ensuring that businesses remain viable in the long term. “Profit isn’t a dirty word. Every social enterprise should aim for profitability to sustain itself.”

Find Folk team organizing an activity about sustainable tourism

For Tontarn, true success lies in the balance between profitability, societal impact, and environmental responsibility. This delicate balancing act, akin to sitting on a three-legged stool, he says, demands constant recalibration. Through initiatives like Find Folk, he aims to ensure that Thailand’s tourism not only remains resilient but evolves to be more responsible, inclusive, and ultimately sustainable. In this endeavor, he’s not just adapting to sustainable tourism, but actively shaping it.

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Teerin Julsawad

An NYU and Columbia alum, Teerin spent a vibrant decade immersed in NYC life, with a stint at The New Yorker for good measure. Now he stirs his creative pot in Bangkok, mixing journalism, design, and digital marketing into an enticing concoction, always keen on forging meaningful connections through his craft.

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