Expect a smaller golden egg this year

Thailand has always been regarded by tourists as the destination for "exotic, fun and friendly people". About 32 million visitors are expected to visit the Kingdom this year, an increase of 7% from an estimated 29.8 million tourists in 2015. Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul expects the tourism revenue to grow from 2.2 trillion to the targeted 2.3 trillion baht in 2016.  

The tourism sector is still expected to be the goose that lays the golden egg, despite the several problems that lie ahead this year.

First off, right after the new year season, a drought crisis has made headlines again and the situation is expected to be worse than last year. The impact will hit not only agricultural areas in the North and Northeast, but also all other industries that need water.

Soon the northern part of Thailand will face haze pollution. The haze is partly created by slash-and-burn farming practices in agricultural and protected forest areas. The haze always blankets the 10 northern provinces, namely Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Lampang, Lamphun, Mae Hong Son, Nan, Phayao, Phrae, Tak and Uttaradit.

Every year the thick smog prevents flights from landing or taking off at airports in Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son. Hotels and resorts also get affected by the sharp drop in bookings from both Thai and foreign tourists, despite the fact that it's still high season. In addition, residents are at risk of suffering health impacts.

Last year, records show that the air quality in Chiang Rai, for example, reached its worst level, with harmful air particles measuring 381 microgrammes (µg) per cubic metre, when actually the safety level is 120µg/m³. In the end of December when I visited the north, some farmers had already burnt unwanted crops on their farmlands. Fires were also set along highways to take out unwanted weeds.

The Department of Pollution Control's Chief Wijarn Simachaya predicted that the haze situation in the north this year will be worse than last year, due to the increase in the strength of El Nino. Be prepared.

After the haze, then it's time for Songkran. The water festival is another long holiday where the government will kick off the "Seven Dangerous Days" campaign to prevent road accidents and fatalities. The attempt aims to make highways safe and reduce the number of road accidents, a wish that has not yet come true this year.

Despite this New Year's strong enforcing of all vehicles with drink drivers being seized, the total number of people who died and were injured during the New Year celebrations was higher than last year. The total number of road accidents was recorded at 3,379, 12.75% up from last year. The deaths increased by 11.44% to 380 and the number of people who were injured increased up by 12.45% to 3,505.    

During last year's Songkran holiday, records show that there were 3,373 road accidents, with 364 deaths and 3,559 injuries. For this year, the statistics may not be much different if there are still many drunk drivers and people who continue to violate traffic laws. 

Then comes the rainy season, when we can expect piles of rubbish along the eastern coast in places like Bang Saen in Chon Buri and Hat Mae Ramphung in Rayong. If you can't recall what it looks like, the recent photos of the sea of rubbish that was found on the beach of Hat Rin in Koh Phangan after the Full Moon party on Boxing Day may be of use.

Trash management is always a problem in top tourist destinations, such as at Doi Inthanon National Park where, after the New Year holiday was over, it was found that visitors left 70 tonnes of garbage. Khao Yai National Park in Nakhon Ratchasima collected 24.4 tonnes of trash while Phi Phi Marine National Park had 8.3 tonnes of debris, just during the long holiday.

In terms of the bigger picture, Thailand was ranked as the sixth highest source from which plastic debris entered the ocean after China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Sri Lanka, according to research last year led by Jenna Jambeck, an associate professor of Georgia University's College of Engineering.

The research found that 275 million tonnes of plastic waste was generated in 2010, with 4.8 to 12.7 million tonnes entering the ocean.

Of that, between 150,000 to 410,000 tonnes was generated in Thailand. We will see our beautiful beaches marred with trash again this year.

And when the cold season comes at the end of the year the southern part of Thailand will once again face haze pollution caused by the forest fires in Indonesia.

In addition to those foreseeable problems during the months to come, one issue that has remained over the years is the scamming of tourists. These frauds have many forms ranging from gem/jewellery scams to closed tourist site scams, tuk-tuk scams, airport taxi and jet ski scams, you name it. 

Those environmental and safety issues will also, of course, have a significant impact on tourism. The tourism and sports minister must work harder to make sure that the goose still lays the golden egg, regardless of that egg's size.


Karnjana Karnjanatawe is a travel writer of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

About the author

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Writer: Karnjana Karnjanatawe
Position: Travel writer