Beyond Green Travel With Costas Christ In Bangkok, A $300,000 Dinner Causes Uproar
Text and photograph by Global Travel Editor Costas Christ
The pioneering ecotourism company CC Africa, whose mission is to “care for the land, care for the people, care for the animals,” hosted a summit in New York City this week to discuss if luxury travel can be a responsible form of tourism. Halfway around the world in Thailand, where I was recently, this topic has reached the tipping point.
On April 5, the posh Lebua Hotel in Bangkok invited 50 of the world’s richest travelers to a ten-course, $300,000 dinner on the hotel’s private rooftop. Six of Europe’s top chefs where flown in and paid $8,000 each for preparing the night’s menu. Guests dined on seafood risotto, scallops with truffles, and neck of Iberico pig, all washed down with prized vintage wines from France.
The only catch to this lavish feast was a requirement that the wealthy patrons also travel (by private jet) to a remote village in northern Thailand before sitting down to dinner.
The purpose was to witness life in one of Thailand’s poorest regions—in other words, to see how the other half lives (or, for that matter, how the majority lives in Thailand). According to the invitation, dress code for the dinner was “black-tie,” and for the village visit, “casual.”
Last year, the same hotel hosted a $25,000 per person dinner, billed as the "meal of a lifetime." This year, the $300,000 dinner announcement caused an uproar. Critics called it an insult to the struggling poor of the world. Others claimed it was poverty tourism in the extreme. Once the controversy erupted, new chefs had to be found to cook the meal after the first group of Michelin star chefs refused to participate. Paris Chef Alain Soliveres stated that it was morally wrong to see people living in misery and then go back to Bangkok for foie gras and truffles.
Is it morally wrong? The hotel maintains that it wants to inspire rich travelers to open their wallets to address poverty. In fact, $50,000 has already been donated to support access to clean drinking water and other basic infrastructure in the village. In addition, the hotel has kicked in an additional three million baht ($96,000) and is putting the money into a new foundation to support rural community development.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Could it be that opening the eyes of the world’s ultra-luxury travelers to the reality of rural village life is the right thing to do? Might it lead to an epiphany moment for the rich jet-setter? As top magazine editors, tour operators, and travel agents gathered at the New York Times Tower in Manhattan this week to discuss whether luxury travel really can be responsible, one thing is clear—we are in the uncharted waters.
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