Responsible Tourism Event Speakers 2016

For the Responsible Tourism Events at ITB Asia this year, we continue to bring you the best and most relevant speakers that can inspire and change the way you think about travel. Responsible Tourism is not just a label, it is essentially the way we do business and the way we experience the world. Our speakers have been handpicked because of their leadership, experience, knowledge and passion to make the world a better place via tourism. And we are proud to introduce you to them…

2016 Responsible Tourism Event Speakers

Event Facilitator: Deborah Chan, Responsible Tourism Associate Specialist, Wild Asia

Deborah Chan_Ardent Traveler_2014A storyteller at heart, Deborah’s deep incessant passion for travel had her stumbling into the world of sustainable tourism by chance. As an associate specialist with Wild Asia, she has assessed more than 80 sustainable tourism award applications, visited over 40 sustainable tourism operators across Asia and provided advisory support and trained numerous tourism establishments. Her personal and professional experience in community development in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia has afforded her priceless lessons in strategic development and people management. Her varied skills allows for great versatility in understanding sustainability issues and adapting to different industries, destinations and people groups.

She believes that the only way tourism can become sustainable is if operators assume the responsibility of being leaders in their own destinations; sharing lessons learnt and providing support from within the industry. This is the reason why she continues to facilitate these responsible tourism events, since 2010.

Valerie SfeirValérie Sfeir, International Coordinator, ChildSafe Movement 

Based in Friends-International’s Cambodia HQ, Valérie leads the implementation of the award-winning ChildSafe Movement internationally, promoting sustainable tourism among all stakeholders whilst simultaneously building networks and supportive structures. Following 9 years in the luxury and private banking industries, considering socially responsible investments, Valérie now work with a global portfolio ranging from governmental tourism programs, tourism industry leaders and innovators, businesses and travelers on developing and implementing multiple child protection campaigns, trainings and processes. This aims at raising awareness and changing actors’ behaviors positively towards protecting children across all situations, and creating protective environments for children where they can thrive.

sarah griffinSarah Griffin, Sales and Marketing Director, Buffalo Tours

A part of the Buffalo Tours team since 2004, Sarah Griffin is certainly not new to travel in Asia. Though she is originally from Australia, she’s called the Asian region home for many years, and beyond her work within travel, Sarah loves discovering new and thrilling opportunities around each corner in the region. Sarah is an integral part of Buffalo Tours’ dedication to responsible travel, community connection and stellar customer service.

July 17, 2008. Vancouver, BC.  Photo: Laura LeyshonJens Thraenhart, Executive Director, Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office 

Jens Thraenhart was appointed by the tourism ministries of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and China (Yunnan and Guanxi) to head the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO) as its Executive Director. The Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO) is an inter-governmental body to promote the Mekong region as a single tourism destination, and foster responsible tourism development in the Greater Mekong Subregion. Jens Thraenhart is founder & president of Digital Innovation Asia (DIA). In 2009, he co-founded China Travel Trends, as well as award-winning China digital marketing and social media agency Dragon Trail, and has led marketing and Internet strategy teams with the Canadian Tourism Commission and Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. He has consulted for many global companies, including recently Prestige Cruise Holdings (now Norwegian Cruise Lines), Swire Hotels, Dusit International, Shinta Mani Hotel Cambodia, and the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). Educated at Cornell University with a Masters of Management in Hospitality, Mr. Thraenhart was recognized as one of the travel industry’s top 100 rising stars by Travel Agent Magazine in 2003, was listed as one of HSMAI’s 25 Most Extraordinary Sales and Marketing Minds in Hospitality and Travel in 2004 and 2005, and named as one of the Top 20 Extraordinary Minds in European Travel and Hospitality in 2014. A UNWTO Affiliate Member, and past Chair of PATA China, he founded the Annual China Responsible Tourism Forum & Awards in 2011.

Dr MarcDr Marc van Loo, CEO, Loola Adventure Resort

Dr Marc van Loo is the founding CEO of LooLa Adventure Resort, winner of a number of global sustainability awards. With a PhD in theoretical physics and having taught in schools and universities for over a decade, Marc is a strong advocate of education and open source. Being Dutch means he’s strongly committed to win-win solutions that benefit all stakeholders. As such, his resort is operated exclusively by local staff and it acts as a testbed for open source eco solutions.

Arnfinn OinesArnfinn Oines, Social and Environmental Conscience, Soneva & Secretary at Soneva Foundation 

Arnfinn Oines works as Social & Environmental Conscience for Soneva resorts. He oversees the responsible business practices at Soneva, which have received numerous environmental awards including the prestigious World Travel & Tourism Council’s Tourism for Tomorrow Award 2015. Arnfinn has been involved in implementing and establishing the Soneva Carbon Calculator, Total Impact Assessment, Clean Water Projects, Soneva Forest Restoration Project, Myanmar Stoves Campaign, the Soneva Foundation, the SLOW LIFE Symposium and the group’s Social & Environmental policy and procedures. 

Prior Arnfinn oversaw the responsible business practices of Six Senses. He co-founded and opened Earthwalkers Hotel in Cambodia as General Manager. He also worked as Course Director for International Tourism Institute in Spain. Arnfinn holds a BA in Adventure Tourism Management and MBA in Hospitality & Tourism.


Willem Neimeijer, CEO, YAANA Ventures

Willem is the CEO of YAANA Ventures, an owner, partner and operator of entrepreneurial travel and hospitality ventures in Asia. Through YAANA, Willem built brands that share real experiences that are grounded in the cultural richness of Asia. More importantly, Willem drives each venture to champion the triple bottom-line: to nurture the people with whom we work, to sustain the planet we all share, and to pursue profits to expand our mission.

Willem founded Khiri Travel at the end of 1993 with a vision of creating a travel company delivering Thailand and Indochina as “4 countries, 1 destination”. He created Khiri Reach, Khiri Travel’s dedicated foundation, which adopts twelve projects that aid underprivileged communities, promote animal welfare, protect local heritage and steward the environment. In the late 1990s, to compliment his travel business, Willem founded a jungle lodge in a remote and breathtaking location in Southern Laos. Tad Fane Resort has since pioneered the development of tourism in the region. Over the following years, he expanded Khiri Travel into Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and the Maldives. With Khiri Travel continuing to grow sustainably, Willem turned his eye to transplanting the seeds of success he learned through growing Khiri Travel and Tad Fane Resort to the businesses that today form the core of YAANA Ventures: Anurak Community Lodge, GROUND (sustainable community development through service learning),  Khiri Travel, Banteay Chhmar Tents and Grasshopper Adventures.

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 1.28.19 PMPranav Sethaputra, Group Sustainability Consultant, MCI 

Pranav is a Group Sustainability Consultant of MCI, the world’s leading provider of strategic engagement and activation solutions in the meetings, events, association and congress industries. As part of MCI’s Sustainability Services team, Pranav provides strategic advisory services to MCI’s clients, working hand-in-hand with corporations, associations, governments, venues and destinations seeking a competitive advantage through a structured sustainability programme. Leveraging on sustainability, Pranav helps MCI’s clients enhance organisational performance, grow globally, energise communities and drive business results.

With core competencies in brand marketing, social research and sustainability consulting, Pranav brings a specialist focus in how businesses can benefit from a structured Sustainability & Communications Strategy. His experience includes working with community, stakeholder engagement and environmental issues for a diverse range of organisations & businesses both in and outside of the events world. His past clients include the likes of Las Vegas Sands Corporation, SAP, BP, Boeing and the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB). Pranav is also responsible for bringing MCI’s own sustainability commitments to life, guiding MCI’s 100+ Sustainability Champions to develop their local activation strategy in the company’s rapidly expanding 61 offices globally.

Alison Curry_Siem Reap_2016Alison Curry, Marketing Technical Advisor, Sam Veasna Centre

Alison has 25 years’ experience in marketing and organisational development across Europe and Asia, working with some of the biggest brands in the world including Coca-Cola, Nike, Nokia and Unilever. She has launched 3 businesses and trained MNCs in digital marketing, innovation and the development of digital and marketing ready organisations.  After realising that her work was at odds with her values she started a long process of self-education to move towards using her powers for good, including volunteering and professional sabbaticals working in Laos, Sulawesi and Malaysia with environmental, fair trade and social enterprise organisations. She is now working with Sam Veasna Centre for Wildlife Conservation, a Cambodian wildlife conservation and ecotourism NGO as Marketing Technical Advisor to help this remarkable organisation to grow.


sschwepcke-headshotSarah Schwepcke, Head – Responsible and Inclusive Business Hub Southeast Asia (RIBH), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (giz) GmbH

Sarah Schwepcke leads the Southeast Asia Section of the Responsible and Inclusive Business Hubs (RIBH), a programme implemented in Southeast Asia, Southern Africa and the Middle-East / North-Africa Region on behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development. The Hubs aim to support companies to successfully design and implement responsible and inclusive business models and to promote private sector engagement in international cooperation projects. A particular focus is laid on the tourism industry, amongst other sectors such as agriculture and ICT. Sarah Schwepcke, an innovation management and youth employment specialist, holds Master Degrees in International Management and International Affairs & Governance by the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, and the CEMS Global Alliance in Management Education. Building on her private-sector focus, she has been working on behalf of GIZ-implemented programmes in Egypt and Southeast Asia for the past five years.

Call for Inspiring Stories 2013

Do you want your responsible tourism story heard at Asia’s biggest business-to-business travel trade show?

Well, we want to hear from you! LOGO_Inspiring Stories from Destinations_2012-page-001

Every year, we invite inspirational tourism businesses and projects from across Asia to submit their inspiring story. Have you empowered local people? Saved a rare wildlife species? Protected an area’s cultural heritage? All through the power of using tourism as a force for good? Get in touch.

Inspiring Stories from Destinations is an annual competition providing an international platform for tourism players to get their story heard at ITB Asia. We seek exciting stories from organisations and individuals who have found in themselves a passion to make a difference in the travel industry and leave a legacy for the next generation.

Check out our 2011 and 2012 Inspiring Stories.

What we’re looking for?

The selection of successful stories is based on the authenticity of the story, creative and innovative elements and the power to inspire others towards making responsible tourism a reality. (Terms below)

What’s in it for you?

  • Top 3 Winners will receive complimentary tickets to ITB Asia and 5 minutes each to share their story on the Responsible Tourism stage to an audience of likeminded tourism professionals and potential customers
  • Top 10 Winners will have their story published on the Wild Asia website
  • Top 10 Winners will benefit from international PR via our array of travel media partners

How to enter

Submit your stories in any of the following form:

  • In words; no more than 1,500 words
  • Video; no more than 5 minutes
  • Slideshow; no more than 20 slides
  • Podcast; no more than 5 minutes

Email your entries to by 30th August, 2013 (Friday). Please title your email “RT Stories for RT Event at ITB Asia 2013″ and include your Name, Email, Organization and Destination in your email. Successful applicants will be notified via email by 13th September, 2013.

Mulberry Learning CentreKecapiPlayersBeyond Unique Escapes (3)factory man





Inspiring Stories is part of the annual Responsible Tourism networking events that started in 2009. Organised and supported by ITB Asia, Wild AsiaThe Blue Yonder Associates and The Green Circuit, this annual event hopes to bring together sustainable tourism practitioners to share, engage, learn and be inspired to make a difference.

Terms & Conditions

  • Previous winners of Inspiring Stories (Top 3 or Top 10) cannot apply
  • 2013 Finalists of the Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards cannot apply
  • Past Winners of the Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards cannot apply
  • Businesses or projects that are part of The Blue Yonder Associates or The Green Circuit cannot apply
  • Business or project must be based in Asia
  • Free entry to ITB Asia for Top 3 Winners on the day of the Inspiring Stories event (TBC) only (travel to and from Singapore or accommodation to attend the event is not included)
  • Stories are judged by a panel of responsible tourism experts and their decision is final
  • Applicants acknowledge that the Top 10 Winners of Inspiring Stories 2013 will have their story, images, (presentation of Top 3) published on the Wild Asia website

Scuba Junkie, Malaysia – Protection of Natural Areas & Wildlife

winner[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his post congratulates Scuba Junkie for being recognized as a 2013 Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards Winner. This award recognizes tourism businesses’ consideration of their local environment and biodiversity by actively supporting and protecting their natural assets.

Scuba Junkie provides daily dive trips to more than 25 islands in the Celebes Sea in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. Whether you want macro diving at Mabul and Kapalai or wish to dive with sharks and turtles at Sipadan Island (frequently voted in the top 10 dives sites in the world) Scuba Junkie will take you there.

Our favourite things about them!

  • Good resource efficiency, educating guests, supports local projects.
  • Good environmental practices such as solar energy, sewage and grey water treatment, pollution control, native landscaping, etc.
  • Good practices and staff engagement in beach cleanups, reef cleanup dives, etc.
  • Full-time environmental officer.
  • Initiatives to reduce emissions such as boat/transfer sharing.
  • Efforts to reduce stress on reef areas frequented by divers.
  • Exemplary education / awareness raising, solar power, $70,000 spent on waste cleaning, best available sewage treatment, reef check, turtle hatchery, no seafood (wow!) and dive against debris.
  • Makes a worthwhile contribution to marine animal and coastal area conservation.
  • Has a strong commitment to sustainable tourism practices.

Inspiring Management

  • 2012 Winner Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards ‘Best in Protection of Natural Areas and/or Wildlife Conservation’

Community Engagement and Development

  • Access to local communities remains open around the resort.
  • Staff, guests and local community are engaged in e.g. beach cleans, school projects.
  • Each year spend around $70,000 supporting local waste removal scheme for local community who do not have government support (Bajau Laut community “sea gypsies”) = 150 bins and 10 skips.

Resource Efficiency

  • Use solar energy for water heating but aware of need to explore other options, in discussion with consultants about improving energy efficiency and use of fuels.
  • Recycle area for staff and guests in restaurant.
  • Approximately 80% of products used are biodegradable and are actively looking for ways to improve.

Protection of Natural Areas and Wildlife Conservation

  • All land rights and environmental regulations are adhered to.
  • Buildings from 60m off the hide tide line to allow access, preserve sea grass and protect nesting turtles.
  • Guests provided with information on local customs and environment through compulsory welcome briefing, sign boards and information in their rooms.
  • Weekly presentations on shark conservation and sea turtles, pressures and importance are discussed. Also similar at expos, for government, local and international media. To date, hundreds to presentations on the topic.
  • Best available sewage treatment plant, Grade A with hydroponic system to water plants with output water and sludge drying beds. Nothing raw released into sea.
  • Grease traps in kitchen and grey water processed via onsite Biosolv treatment plant.
  • Weekly ‘Dive against Debris’ cleans up, non-recyclable waste taken to mainland and managed by government body.
  • Have an environmental area in communal part of resort, TV runs showing their achievements and how guests can play a part.
  • Chair Mabul Marine week event and run the Mabul Turtle Hatchery, managed by trained staff and supported by community ‘rangers’. Last year, hatched thousands of eggs.
  • Do not use chemical on gardens (use native plants) to prevent run off into sea.
  • Use low level lighting on jetty to reduce light pollution.
  • Employ a full time Environment Officer (and two Marine Biologists) to engage staff and guests with issues; all staff trained in environmental practices.
  • Do not serve any seafood because none available locally that is sourced sustainably.
  • All dive guides have excellent reputation for providing ‘do and don’t’ in briefings.
  • Certified reef check dive centre, have a reef check trainer and provide eco dive master courses.
  • Advise Semporna Shark Sanctuary (aim to protect wider Sipadan area and reefs) and support the Manta Trust.
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Lisu Lodge, Thailand – Community Engagement & Development

winner[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his post congratulates Lisu Lodge for being recognized as a 2013 Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards Winner. This award recognizes exceptional commitment to supporting the local community and economy in which your business operates.

Named after the Lisu hill tribe village that is found near the lodge, Lisu Lodge is part of a community-based project that aims to conserve the natural heritage of the hill tribes of northern Thailand. The Lisu migrated from southern China and Tibet in the early 20th century.

Our favourite things about them!

  • Outstanding benefits spread throughout community. Long term, consistent commitment to the host community.
  • A fund set up to support local communities – Village Bank – an innovative example of how a business can contribute to local well-being in a concrete and practical way. Tangible, quantifiable contributions to local capacity and development funding.
  • 55% occupancy rate and 9000+ guests last year – these demonstrate that the lodge is a financially viable business, which is a critical factor.
  • Focus on low-impact activities such as walking, trekking and biking – a great way to engage travellers in the lodge’s effort to walk the talk.
  • Local villagers are not just the beneficiaries, but also involved in the business of the lodge – e.g. being part of marketing efforts, identifying new sources of revenues, having a say in management practices.
  • Ecological and sustainability practices such as use of locally sourced building materials, solar panel, water usage agreed by villagers, sewage management, etc. demonstrate awareness and commitment beyond what meets the eye. 

Inspiring Management

  • Provide each guest room with information on local culture and ways in which to behave when visiting a villager’s house.
  • Local guides provide orientation at the beginning of each tour, explain etiquette of hill tribes.
  • 94% workforce is local.
  • Provide opportunities for staff and villagers in business development, education, hospitality training.
  • Staff are paid exceeds national minimum wage (monthly salary, share of guest service charge, social security); meals and uniform provided.

Community Engagement and Development

  • All staff are local community members, including tour staff.
  • Tour guides have been trained with experienced facilitator to develop ‘introduction brief’, information on safety, history of Lisu communities, culture, environmental issues etc.
  • Local community engaged from beginning of development.
  • Lodge contributes to village bank each year, owned and operated by locals exclusively. 2012 contributed approx. US$4,000. Money funds community projects, e.g. waste collection, decided upon by community (lodge has no input).
  • Contribution to building of a school, dam, water investigation studies, disease prevention measures.
  • Purchase fresh produce from local farmers at a fair price.
  • Local work force try to purchase other goods from local family members.
  • Designated area in lodge for local people to sell handicrafts at no charge, as a result the village is now one of the largest local suppliers of handicrafts to the region.
  • Regular meetings with village chief. 

Cultural Preservation

  • Lodge has library with largest collection of hill tribe literature, available for guests and locals.
  • Guests visit local festivals or ceremonies upon invite of community members only.

Resource Efficiency

  • Solar energy used to heat water.
  • Water sourced from source agreed by local villagers.

Protection of Natural Areas and Wildlife Conservation

  • Run project ‘Earth Care’ and deliver annual workshops on e.g. recycling for local people.
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Koh Rong gone Wrong?

Our Responsible Tourism Intern Iwona Grala (Poland/UK) shares her experiences of tourism that tarnishes natural beauty of destinations from her latest adventure in Cambodia.

Stories from the Field

My name is Iwona and I am a travelholic. My desire for adventure has taken me around the world, giving me a chance to taste the thousands of flavours it has to offer. Sometimes sweet and sometimes bitter ones.

Cambodia_Island_Koh_RongA case study from Koh Rong, Cambodia

I want to tell you about my experience in Koh Rong, the second largest island of Cambodia, located about 25 kilometres off the coast of Sihanoukville.

Tempted by my friend with the vision of an unspoiled island getaway with turquoise-green waters, white beaches, endless palm trees, and only a handful of beachfront bungalows I followed her footsteps and in February 2013 I have arrived to Koh Rong. Leaving behind the hub of nightlife in busy Sihanoukville, I was hoping to live out my Robinson Crusoe fantasy for a few days.

Sadly, the reality of Koh Rong disappointed me rather than amazed me.

Despite the fact that the number of bungalows has increased significantly since my friend last visited the island in 2009, I had a lot of trouble finding a place for the night, which only confirmed that the island is struggling under the weight of its own popularity.

Research reveals that between 2011 and 2013 a number of new operations have opened and even with increased boat service to the island the ferries are struggling to keep up with demand.

Koh Rong C Iwona GralaKoh Touch beach on the island is very popular with backpackers and its popularity has resulted into the loss of ‘desert island’ feeling. For example, I viewed piles of decomposing litter with chickens, dogs, and even children running around it. Plastic bottles and bags, even glass, were littered across the beach and in the water. The white sand was dotted with litter that the locals threw off boats and debris washed up on the beach every day.

Most concerning, numerous pipes from the stilted wooden houses deposited directly to the sea which was supposed to indicate a working sewerage system.

I recently discovered that in 2010 the Cambodian government sold Koh Rong to an investment group based in Cambodia, whose goal is to change Koh Rong into the world’s premier eco resort island armed with an airport, a casino and several five-star resorts. Apparently sustainability will be at the forefront of design and development.

Nevertheless, this much is certain: Koh Rong is still a stunning island that could be the highlight of your trip to Cambodia. How long it will stay this way is another question. If you want to experience it as it is, do so sooner rather than later.

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Take Action on your Holidays

For many years Wild Asia has been championing responsible tourism in destinations across Asia. We do this by recognising leaders and providing an international platform to inspire businesses through our annual Responsible Tourism Awards. We also support tourism operators through dynamic training programmes to improve sustainability practices.

But guests can play their part too! Here are some tips to help you have a responsible holiday:

  • Follow local cultural etiquette by discovering appropriate ‘do’s and don’ts’ for your destination – here’s a great example for Cambodia
  • Search for responsible accommodation providers – stay with one of our past Award winners or look for certified hotels, such as Travelife accredited businesses
  • If you see something you don’t like, don’t stay quiet. Speak to the business that’s upsetting you and point them in the direction of a more responsible approach.


(Photos: header and lower, credit Iwona Grala; centre image taken from

Do you have a story?

Have you witnessed something on your holiday that has disturbed you or amazed you? We’d love to hear your own experiences. If you’ve been exposed to travel experiences that have left you feeling something’s not quite right here, get in touch. Equally, we love hearing about inspirational tourism that’s doing wonders for local communities. Share your travel story by emailing it to,