March 27, 2005
The Koh Chang Queen’s Cup is an annual event aimed at raising money for Thailand’s elephants. What the elephants spend the money on is anyone’s guess. But apparently they need it to live thrive and survive.
In 1999 H.M the Queen declared March 13th ‘National Elephant Day‘ and proclaimed that it’d be nice if folks could spare some loose change to help these pretty cool beasts out.
The idea of holding an event on Koh Chang (‘Elephant Island’) was obvious enough so in 2004 the first Kayak Rally for Thai Elephants took place. Kayaking was chosen as it was an eco-friendly way to travel plus is provided participants with the opportunity to see more of the island.
From March 11-13 2005, the second event was held and following the same idea as the first i.e. a 3 day kayak trip, including various games/competitions along the way, followed by a big party with loads of invited B-list dignitaries.
In 2004, rates to enter the event were initially 9,000 baht per three person team. For some unfathomable (to the organisers, at least) reason, no-one came forward to pay the cash and enter, so in the days before the event the entry fee was slashed . . . by 9,000 baht. This stroke of marketing genius resulted in a dozen or so teams entering and the great kayak rally was on.
The grand finale of the 2004 event was a knees-up at the Aiyapura Hotel, a 4 star at the north end of the island. Rich folks bid for elephant art and money was raised. Exactly how much actually got donated was never publicly announced.
For the 2005 event adverts were put up island wide – an improvement over 2004, and the entry fee was cut to 3,000 baht per three person team. So far, so good. But, to my mind at least, the whole thing wasn’t in any way tourist friendly and therefore didn’t encourage participation from the market it was supposed to appeal to. without tourists entering the only teams were from a few large hotels – who could afford to give staff 3 consecutive days off. This in turn tended to give the whole thing an air of being an exclusive get together merely being held for P.R. reasons.
Things that made me go ‘hmmmm’ were:
1. The event was over a three day period. There aren’t many tourists who are going to give up three straight days of their holiday. One day, no problem. Why not have a single event or a series of separate one day events in January, February & March? Get three times as many participants and create three times as much awareness.
2. Teams of three are required. How many tourists travel in groups of three??? Or are couples expected to just round up a single stranger to help join in the fun? The reason three people are required is so that two can paddle and one can enjoy various activities such as tree planting, matching names and types of coral, releasing aquatic animals into the sea etc.
Why bother with the activities? They certainly have the potential to be interesting and educational but why can people only learn or experience them once a year? If you want to educate visitors there are better ways to do it, if you want to educate hotel resort staff – doing it through a game on a kayak rally probably isn’t the most effective way either.
How about just having teams of two, competing against each other and doing a bit of problem solving along the way in an ‘Amazing Race’ style. If the event was spectator friendly that would give ample opportunities to educate and inform a far larger number of people watching the kayakers from the shore.
3. The posters that were displayed contained no information which made you want to enter or watch the proceedings. The date was on there and a sentence about raising money for elephants but there were no details of location, cost etc only a couple of phone numbers for interested parties to call.
What’s wrong with the idea of putting the location for, at least, the starting point on a poster plus the start time so that anyone interested can go along. Throw in a few souvenir stalls selling elephant charity t-shirts etc and the money will come in.
4. Gala dinner. Scrap it & give the money to the elephants. Most tourists don’t care about having a multi-course meal accompanied by long speeches, back slapping all round and formal trophy presentations. It’s nice to receive a trophy but remember that visitors are going to have to cart these things home with them. If sponsors want photo ops then have them shake a few hands and dish out trinkets to participants immediately after the event is over.
I did actually mention a couple of these points to the guy who organises the event, he runs Baan Kwan Chang Elephant Camp, but never received any response other than a faint smile which could loosely be translated as any comments you make go in one ear and out the other. The kayaking for elephants idea has a lot of potential for being an excellent source of income. If it was organised and run properly as both a spectator event and as a big one day event or a series of races combined with a bit of adventure / puzzle solving along the way it’d be great fun.
Roll on 2006, I’m predicting exactly the same type of event a this year and last . . . but you never know.
Postscript: 2006 & 2007 events both flopped despite a change of format to an inter island race. And in 2008 the format was changed yet again but as no-one bothered to enter, it was cancelled at the last minute. After that farce, it was scrapped for good. Another example of a good idea but bad implementation, planning & organisation.