Promoting Cultural Heritage at the Ayutthaya Elephant Farm in Ayutthaya Thailand
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The focus of this research study is the Royal Kraal in Ayutthaya, Thailand (hereinafter alternatively "the elephant farm" or "Royal Kraal"). As home to more than 90 retired or rescued elephants, the Royal Kraal in Ayutthaya represents an important resource for the Kingdom of Thailand and elephant conservationists around the world. The importance of the Royal Kraal as well as the focus of this study relate to the valuable contributions it is making to the care and welfare of elephants in Thailand, as well as to its potential as a cultural heritage tourism site for domestic and international tourists. In this regard, authorities in the field such as Furnis (2007) emphasize the need for all three of the resources, (i) cultural, (ii) historic and (iii) natural, to provide an authentic cultural heritage tourism experience. The need for this combination of cultural, historic and natural resources to promote authentic cultural heritage tourism means that it may not be possible to place a higher priority on one element over another, because they are all essential to the overall tourism experience. Since the Royal Kraal embodies all three of these valuable resources in the form of the cultural heritage programs it presents, the interpretation of its efforts in the context of Thai history, and the completely natural setting in which these activities are conducted, the facility and its staff are logical and appropriate choices for cultural heritage tourism promotional initiatives, an issue which also forms the issue to be considered in this research study.
1.2: Research in Tourism Studies
Among the several emerging tourism models available, including ecotourism, adventure and sports tourism (Francis-Lindsay 2009), the approach that has been shown to be most effective in providing the sustainable support needed by the Royal Kraal is cultural heritage tourism because it features all three of the essential elements of cultural heritage tourism (i.e., cultural, historic and natural resources). Developing and maintaining an ongoing cultural heritage tourism initiative, though, is not without its difficulties and challenges (Richards & Hall 2000). Indeed, as Dustin and Wolf, point out, cultural heritage tourism initiatives "require a commitment of time and patience on the part of the visitor as well as a genuine interest in understanding the complexities of a sophisticated culture" (1999:73). Although a number of cultural heritage tourism initiatives have been developed in recent years as the result of governmental support, there is an increasing trend towards private development (Lim 2010).
Moreover, developing sustainable cultural heritage tourism initiatives involves far more than simply inviting tourists to a given locale and expecting positive outcomes but properly designed, implemented and administered, such initiatives can help preserve the very resources they use to differentiate themselves from other destinations. In this regard, Schumann (2010) reports that, "Cultural heritage tourism means traveling to experience the places and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present" (p. 31). By appropriately interpolating the three building blocks of cultural heritage tourism (cultural, historic and natural), such destinations can develop realistic and sustainable business models. In fact, Schumann stresses "the importance of heritage areas to invigorate communities," and adds that "these connections are strengthened by capturing and telling the stories of the people and their place. These stories, when linked together, reflect a regional identity and support a collective awareness of the need to protect and enhance the unique qualities of the destination" (32).
This differentiation of destinations has assumed increasing importance in recent years as a growing number of cultural heritage sites have been developed and marketed. Indeed, King, Bays and Foster (2002) describes the trend as "cultural tourism luring visitors to their monuments, sites and ruins or to anything else that is marketable as a distinctive cultural attribute. Cultural artifacts may include stories, dance, or religious expressions" (p. 123). Given this broad array of potential cultural heritage destination sites, it is important to identify those attributes of a given destination that hold the most promise of creating the desired image in ways that make it difficult for others to duplicate (King et al. 2002). An example of this approach can be discerned from the facility's promotion of its role as a sanctuary for "ferocious elephants" whose plight is widely recognized throughout Thailand. In this regard, an announcement on "Elephant News" Web site (http://www.elephant-news.com/index.php?location=AYUTTHAYA) emphasizes that, "Ferocious killer elephants have been capturing headlines -- and public wonder -- in Thailand's local news, but the reasons for the mounting numbers of elephants with an attitude-just why they have become ferocious, is not clear. However, in Thailand's central Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya province, there is an ancient sanctuary founded long ago dedicated solely to provide shelter to calm the spirits of disturbed elephants and to provide them a grounding place to live quietly" (A refuge for ferocious elephants 2009: 3).
In some cases, these marketing efforts have been taken to the extreme in an effort to garner local and international media attention. For instance, in 2009, the Royal Kraal painted several of its elephants to resemble pandas to counter all of the media attention being paid to China's rare panda birth, emphasizing the highly competitive environment in which the Royal Kraal competes. For example, according to Elephant News (http://www.elephant-news.com/index.php?location=AYUTTHAYA), the marketing initiative was "a desperate cry - or rather a very loud trumpet - for attention. Elephants were painted black and white to look like the pandas who have stolen all their fans. The elephant is Thailand's national symbol, but the country has gone panda-crazy since the birth of a female panda cub to pandas Lin Hui and Xuang at Chiang Mai zoo in Bangkok" (Thai elephants painted to look like pandas after the black and white bears steal their fans 2009: 4).
Therefore, although the opportunity to identify opportunities for promoting cultural heritage tourism at the Royal Kraal Elephant Farm in Ayutthaya, Thailand exists, it is a challenging enterprise that requires a careful assessment of the potential market for these experiences and how marketing activities can be more effectively applied and combined. Taken together, it is clear that there is a need to identify approaches to promote sustainable cultural heritage tourism in the Royal Kraal Elephant Farm using the theoretical and conceptual issues discussed further below.
1.3: Theoretical and Conceptual Issues
The main theoretical issue that guided this research study was the capacity to build a sustainable approach to cultural heritage tourism. The conceptual issues that guided the study included identifying the most important types of international tourism currently being promoted such as sun, sea, and beach tourism; adventure and ecotourism; and cultural heritage tourism (Stonich 2001), or health and wellness tourism, sports tourism, religious tourism, rural tourism, or event tourism (Francis-Lindsay 2009), to determine the most appropriate approach for the Royal Kraal. According to Francis-Lindsay, though, at present, "Cultural heritage tourism has perhaps been the most prominent of the emerging tourism niches and is viewed by industry players as the most successful specialized tourism market or niche" (151).
Developing sustainable cultural heritage tourism models can also help improve economic development efforts in surrounding communities by increasing domestic tourism and the Thai people have a long and intimate relationship with the elephant that will facilitate this approach. In this regard, Francis-Lindsay emphasizes that, "Societies and local communities will always struggle with achieving sustainable heritage tourism. It is therefore suggested that societies, in particular those that rely on tourism as major income earners, develop the domestic tourist market as a means of shaping interest, enthusiasm and pride among locals" (152). Therefore, given the abundant and unique cultural, historic and natural attributes of the Royal Kraal, cultural heritage tourism appears to be the most appropriate approach to developing a sustainable model to increase international and domestic tourism over the long-term.
1.4: Research Aims and Objectives
The overarching aim of this study was to investigate the interaction between tourists and nature at the Royal Kraal Elephant Farm in Ayutthaya, Thailand to examine ways that cultural heritage tourism can be used to heighten awareness about the critical mission being performed by the Royal Kraal and to increase tourism levels at the facility over time in sustainable ways. In furtherance of this aim, the study's objectives were to: (i) To analyse the motivations of tourists visiting the Royal Kraal Elephant Farm; (ii) To inspect the cultural importance of the Royal Kraal Elephant Farm; (iii) To identify opportunities for promoting cultural heritage tourism at the Royal Kraal Elephant Farm; and, (iv) To contribute to the debate on cultural tourism in the context of nature. Therefore, the study's review of the related peer-reviewed and scholarly literature was focused on these four general areas.
1.5: Justification for the Research Study
Although cultural heritage tourism remains a challenging enterprise, it is also among the fastest-growing special interest areas in the tourism market today. Notwithstanding these trends, though, there remains a paucity of timely and relevant studies concerning best practices for these initiatives. In this regard,…