Vol. 11, Supp. 1 (2015), 145–167
The development of ethnic minority souvenir businesses in Thailand was once initiated by external actors and mostly limited to the northern region, but over the last decades, an increasing number of ethnic minorities has gone into business for themselves and migrated southwards to Thailand’s urban and beachside tourist areas such as Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Phuket or Koh Samui. This paper focuses on the ethnic minority group of Akha who have moved temporarily or permanently into Thailand’s urban tourist areas in order to sell souvenirs as street vendors. This research aims to reconstruct and understand the Akha migratory processes into Thailand’s urban tourist areas and to analyse agency perspectives of these micro-entrepreneurs as well as their embeddedness in social, political and economic structures. The author argues that the development of Akha souvenir business over time and space can only be understood by analysing conditional changes and structuring in both Akha homeland and migration destination areas. On the individual or agency level, moreover, the author shows that Akha vendors’ motivation to migrate and enter the own-account souvenir work is not only tied to economic but also social and emotional factors. The empirical data collection of this study involved participant observation, informal conversations, semi-structured interviews and personal network analysis which were conducted at the various living and working areas of Akha souvenir vendors across Thailand. Existing research on highland groups in Thailand has focused on village case studies while urban perspectives beyond the northern city of Chiang Mai have been neglected. This research thus aims to enrich existing literature by integrating data from empirical research carried out in urban and tourist areas in the capital city Bangkok and the southern beachside destinations.
Alexander Trupp holds a PhD in Theoretical and Applied Geography, and is currently Assistant Professor (Universitätsassistent) at the Department of Geography and Regional Research, University of Vienna, Austria and Editor-in-Chief of the Austrian Journal of South-East Asian Studies (ASEAS). He also served as visiting professor at the Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia (RILCA), Mahidol University, Thailand. His research interests include ethnic minority tourism, street vending, intersections of tourism and migration, and Asian outbound tourism. He has published several refereed journal articles and book chapters and recently (2014) co-edited the book Southeast Asian Mobility Transitions: Issues and Trends in Migration and Tourism.