Nan keen to avoid being swamped
Authorities are looking at measures to limit the number of visitors to Nan province in the high season.
The Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration (Dasta) and Nan Chamber of Commerce are concerned about the northern province's limited capacity to accommodate visitors.
Last year, Nan welcomed 600,000 tourists, with more than half visiting in the high season.
If peak-season arrivals reach 400,000, there will be a shortage of accommodation and restaurants, said Chumpol Musinganont, managing director of Dasta's Nan Old City.
The average annual growth of tourist numbers has been 15-20% since 2011. About 90% of visitors are Thais and the rest foreigners. Chinese tourists have begun visiting Nan recently.
However, the province has only 2,700 hotel rooms and most are small and owned by local people. Nan has only about 10 big restaurants for tourists.
Dasta believes higher tourist arrivals raise concerns about the deterioration of tourist attractions, so the agency and the provincial authority are considering a cap on visitor numbers in the high season.
"The model of Bhutan, which limits annual tourist numbers, is interesting but the format should be adjusted to suit the tourism situation in Nan," Mr Chumpol said.
Sombat Chinsukserm, president of the Nan Chamber of Commerce, agrees with Dasta's plan to control tourist numbers and wants to see sustainable tourism growth in the long term.
The plan is to attract more tourists to the small province in the low season when hotel room rates are cheaper.
Earlier, Dasta thought Nan was not ready to serve big groups of Chinese tourists, but it changed its attitude when it saw many Chinese visit the province early this year and appreciate the local culture and peaceful life of Nan residents.
Beautiful nature, unique culture and strong communities are key attractions in Nan, which is dubbed the Living Old City. Many locals still wear traditional Nan clothes, while Wat Noy, Thailand's smallest Buddhist temple, is in the province.
In the last quarter of 2014, Nan was selected among 12 hidden gem provinces by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, attracting more visitors.
Hotel occupancy rates are higher than 80% in the high season, with no vacancies at Christmas and New Year (Dec 25-Jan 2), while the occupancy rate in the low season is 40%.
Mr Sombat revealed that around 800 visitors from the World Trade Organization will hold a meeting in Nan during Loy Krathong this year.
"In fact, Nan can be visited all year round. Dasta plans to develop attractive souvenirs and use local foods to attract foreign tourists," Mr Chumpol said.
Salted soap is a local speciality that could be developed to have nice packaging and sold in leading hotels. There should be more souvenir outlets selling local products. This will help increase the income of households in Nan.