Found at the historic confluence of Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand, the Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp and Resort opened its doors again on July 1st — along with most remaining businesses in Thailand, which has gone almost two months without a local COVID case. General Manager Gauderic Harang speaks with Remote Lands on how travel in the Golden Triangle has changed for people and elephants.
Bangkok is now emerging from the COVID crisis. What have been the effects in the Golden Triangle of Thailand’s north?
Purely in terms of health, we have been quite fortunate in the North; there have been very few cases, and none of our team members or any of their family members were affected by the virus. Thailand in general has handled the crisis very well, with a low number of reported cases, and WHO has highlighted the response of the country. The health of our team members and guests was our prime concern. As with most hotels and resorts, we had to go into hibernation in late March. The effects of the crisis will be long-lasting in terms of business, but also all around the world. We usually welcome a majority of international guests, but can’t greet them back just yet. We are reopening […] to the domestic market first. People in the North are resilient and genuine. It’s a region which has a strong focus on agriculture, and people have been working hard to ensure their harvests would come on time. I am confident that they will overcome the current crisis as they overcame the previous ones.
You’re quite well-known for your Asian elephant experiences; what have been some of the conservation challenges during the COVID lockdown?
We set-up a foundation 15 years ago, the GTAEF (Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation), with the goal to assist and support elephants and caretakers, as well as their families, who can’t support themselves. In Thailand […] captive elephants have been around for close to 3,000 years. In normal times, these captive elephants rely on tourism revenue in order to ensure food, medicine, as well as caretaker’s livelihood. Guests staying with us see a portion of their spend directly sponsoring the foundation, hence supporting the elephants. Without guests, the revenue stream for the foundation was halted. In order to bring joy into people’s homes, as well as raise awareness and funds, we started a daily livestream from our social media showcasing the foundation’s work and the elephants in their natural environment. Despite the challenges, we have also taken it upon ourselves to welcome three extra elephants (to a total 23) from other places that could not take care of them properly anymore.
Let’s talk pods. Your ‘jungle bubbles’ made quite a few headlines before the world went into quarantine. Can you tell us more about the response to this unique experience?
We have been thrilled to receive such a widely positive response not only in the media but mostly from our guests who experienced the bubbles. We knew when we set-up the bubbles that we were creating something special, but it is only once you experience it yourself that you truly understand how special and unique it is. Before we closed our doors, about 200 guests got to experience them, and their feedback was overwhelming. Anything you may have read is under the reality; it is such a special experience. Being isolated — talk about social distancing! — in your jungle bubble, while observing the elephants behaving in their natural environment is Netflix’s “Our Planet” in IMAX, for real! The only difference is guests are the ones doing the live commentary. I remember guests sharing the recording of one of our gentle giants […] snoring, so amazing.
Do you expect any lasting effects from the COVID crisis? How has Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort changed?
The first effect which might be felt over the next 12 months will be a smaller number of guests – not that we want that. We have a large area of over 200 acres, open facilities which naturally facilitate physical distancing, but we have to face the fact that there might be less traveling for the next 12 to 18 months. There will be even more space for guests. This means that we will keep on pushing personalization even further. We will move from “high touch” stays to “high personalization” stay, crafting better and better experiences. There is an obvious emphasis on disinfecting surfaces even more and sanitization processes, which have been set for all Anantara Resorts under our “Stay with piece of mind” program. This will insure the safest possible environment for our valued guests as well as for our team members. All our team members have been retrained to respect strict hygiene protocols and will be wearing masks, however, as a nod to the world-famous Thai smile, we feature that on our masks, and you can be sure guests will still see the sparkle in their eyes.
Is there anything travelers should be looking forward to from the Anantara Golden Triangle in 2021?
Absolutely, the team and I have a will like never before to deliver once in a lifetime experiences, ensuring that each moment spent here is engraved in their memory. We have missed our guests so much! We want to have as many guests as possible experience the bubbles, and we will keep on pushing the quality of the experiences with our gentle giants, ensuring we always take better care of them and bring more knowledge to everyone about them. Finally, 2021 might be one of the best years ever for people to travel, with a worldwide emphasis on hygiene and places less frequented than before. If you were not sure when to visit Thailand, now you know. The Anantara Golden Triangle is definitely waiting for you.