The recent demolition of nine illegal resorts in Nakhon Ratchasima's Wang Nam Khieo district has affected the tourism industry there, with losses estimated at more than 300 million baht during the low season.
The Wang Nam Khieo Tourism Promotion Association said civil servants and state enterprise officials, who are the main markets for resorts in the district, are shifting their trips to Khao Yai National Park and Pak Chong district instead during the May-September low season.
The average occupancy rate in Wang Nam Khieo has fallen to 20% from 70-80% in the same period last year.
"Tourism in Wang Nam Khieo has been declining over the past two or three years due to the issue of forest encroachment by many resorts," said association president Pongthep Malachasing.
"However, we hope tourists will return in the high season thanks to our new efforts to promote tourism in this area. Many of the resorts here don't encroach on the forest."
About 300 resorts and hotels as well as many private houses have been accused of encroaching in Thap Lan National Park.
Their cases are continuing.
The encroachment problem stems from a lack of cooperation between officials and private operators.
Moreover, relevant officials do not enforce the law, so villagers and operators believe they can conduct business there.
"I think the area along the boundary of Phu Luang National Park should be surveyed again," said Mr Pongthep.
"Thap Lan's boundary should be based on the 2000 boundary study instead of the 1981 announcement regarding national park areas."
Under the 1981 announcement, tambon Thai Samakkhi and part of Wang Nam Khieo district are in the national park, while the 2000 boundary study considers no one to be encroaching.
Kongkrit Hiranyakit, the Tourism Council of Thailand's president for policy and planning, said footage of the resort demolitions in Wang Nam Khieo has also helped to destroyed the area's image.
"Many private operators are concerned the problem will expand to other areas. We hope the public and private sectors will work together to solve this issue and clarify which areas have no problems with forest encroachment," he said.
Mr Kongkrit urged government agencies should cooperate with each other and announce the national park boundaries and encroached areas.
"Destroying resorts did not address the problem at its root. Normally, if businessmen knew they were encroaching on national parks, they would not invest and build resorts. In many cases, the business operators are unaware of park encroachment," he said.
Ombudsmen have proposed a possible solution to the government.
Under the proposal, the Department of Special Investigation, the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department and the Agricultural Land Reform Office would work together to announce clear forest zones and usable land.
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- Writer: Chadamas Chinmaneevong