It has been postulated that one dominant trend in tourism development in more recent times is the rise of 'new tourism' - that is, an alternative tourism that not only appeals more to a niched clientele particularly interested in eco-, cultural and other specialized forms of tourism, but also claimed to be more sustainable in social, economic and cultural terms due to its emphasis on local control and participation, educational value, and sensitivity to environmental protection. Some critics however believed that the benefits of such 'alternative' tourism had been overstated and its implementation remained problematic. This thesis seeks to investigate further into such debates by an examination of tourism development in Ban Huai Khilek, a hill-tribe community in Chiang Rai in northern Thailand.
Specifically, this thesis aims to investigate how tourism development in northern Thailand, particularly given the recent growing interests in cultural and eco-tourism, has impacted the Akha village community, especially on their socio-cultural fabrics, environment and habitat, and how the community responded to develop and implement an alternative form of tourism based on their vision and tradition for the sake of community development rather than for profit. It is a case study that aims to clarify what alternative tourism is and how it can be implemented to benefit the local community and people in the framework of actor-oriented approach. Simultaneously, it also highlights the difficulties and limitations of alternative tourism.
The thesis employs an actor-oriented approach to illustrate how agency, participation, empowerment and community values other than economic gain have contributed to the development of alternative tourism in a local community. Its findings are synthesized from empirical fieldwork involving semi-structured in-depth interviews with stakeholders, participant observation as well as library and documentary research.