A lack of green
The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) has announced an all-time-high revenue since the department was founded in 2002.
During the 11 months of its 2016 fiscal year starting last October, the DNP earned 1.82 billion baht, almost doubling its revenue reported in 2015.
This, however, has raised many an eyebrow. Some said "wow", while others rubbed their eyes and raised questions about the amount or asked if was in relation to the anti-corruption policy of the military government which has paid off.
Based on DNP statistics, its revenues during the past five years were up and down. The 2011 revenue was 496 million baht and declined to 366 million baht in 2012, which was the year after the Big Flood. After that, the figure climbed up to 622 million baht in 2013, 696 million baht in 2014 and 896 million baht in 2015.
The number of tourists were up 6-8% from 9.4 million five years ago to 9.9 million in 2012, 11.2 million in 2013, 11.9 million and 12.9 million in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
This year, Thanya Netithammakun, who became DNP director-general in February, expects the number of tourists to jump 24%, reaching more than 16 million visitors, generating a revenue of 1.9 billion baht.
The top 10 national parks with high incomes are Hat Noppharat Thara -- Mu Koh Phi Phi in Krabi (502 million baht), followed by Ao Phangnga in Phangnga (336 million baht), Mu Koh Similan in Phangnga (185 million baht), Erawan in Kanchanaburi (99 million baht), Khao Yai in Nakhon Ratchasima (88 million baht), Doi Inthanon in Chiang Mai (66 million baht), Khao Sok in Surat Thani (46 million baht), Koh Chang in Trat (28 million baht), Mu Koh Lanta in Krabi (28 million baht) and Mu Koh Ang Thong in Surat Thani (27 million baht).
Hat Noppharat Thara -- Mu Koh Phi Phi, Ao Phangnga and Mu Koh Similan generate more than half of the total earnings or 1.02 billion baht. The figure is also five times higher than the previous year.
Ao Phangnga National Park Chief Worpoj Lomlim told Life that one of the reasons was because national parks have more staff to collect entrance fees. In addition, there were more tourists, especially those from China.
In the past 11 months, the total number of tourists at Ao Phangnga National Park increased 325% from 296,923 in 2015 to 1,261,977 this year. About 1.2 million were foreigners, an increase from 223,748 a year before.
Park entrance fees are 60 baht for Thais and 300 baht for foreigners.
"Collecting entrance fees for marine national parks is a little difficult because the parks are comprised of smaller islands unlike national parks, which have one way in and out," he said.
Worpoj was deputy chief of the marine national parks for nine years before being promoted to chief last year and has noticed a few problems. For instance, some tour operators use speedboats to take visitors around Koh Tapu or James Bond Island, without docking at Khao Phing Kan Island, where visitors and the boat need to pay entrance fees.
Koh Tapu islet is about 40m from the shores of Khao Phing Kan Island. Both islands are famous tourist stops for Ao Phangnga National Park after they featured in the James Bond movie The Man With The Golden Gun.
Tour operators must pay a boat entrance fee like a vehicle entrance fee in a national park although they do not drop off tourists on the beach of Khao Phing Kan Island, he said. Worpoj hired more staff to patrol the waters and collect entrance fees from boats around.
He said that the park could generate a higher revenue this year because "we just perform our duty".
In fact, performing one's duty is key. Imagine how much income could be generated if all chiefs and staff of the 147 national parks around the country performed their duties.
DNP's high revenue is not only good news, but it is a chance for Thanya to find out what happened and who should take responsibility for the lack of income generated in the past.
Karnjana Karnjanatawe is a travel writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.
Karnjana Karnjanatawe is a travel writer for Life section.