Prime Minister and Finance Minister Srettha Thavisin on Wednesday voiced concern over the impact of PM2.5 pollution on Chiang Mai's tourism industry during the high season and pledged to hold talks with neighbouring countries to combat haze and smog pollution.
On his second day of visiting the northern province, the prime minister met representatives from various agencies and laid down guidelines as they step up efforts to deal with the seasonal bushfires, ultra-fine dust and other harmful air pollutants in the region.
"I can see that they take the air pollution issue seriously and want to lessen the problem. I use the word 'lessen' because it's extremely challenging to eliminate the problem. Let's be realistic," he said.
The prime minister stressed the need to curb sources of PM2.5 that have long affected people's health, saying exhaust fumes, slash-and-burn farming and waste management must be addressed.
A wider use of renewable energy and a transition to electric vehicles could significantly reduce air pollution. Meanwhile, slash-and-burn practices and problems linked to the management of farm waste could be solved by economic strategies, he said.
Mr Srettha said if product prices were elevated, farmers would be more willing to absorb the expenses associated with farm waste management.
"The costs of managing farm waste are also high. Several suggestions have been made and I believe we have to pursue these measures as they are sustainable," he said.
Mr Srettha said haze and forest fires have been plaguing the northern region for years and affecting the region's tourism industry, with people staying away from the northern region in February and March because of poor air quality.
The government will hold talks with Laos and Myanmar to seek their support and cooperation in fighting haze and Thailand might also offer to help them with managing farm waste for mutual benefits, he said.
He said cooperation from businesses is also essential to promote clean air and strongly urged them to buy farm products from those that comply with regulations.
He said the Clean Air Bill would hold accountable those responsible for sources of air pollution outside national borders.
According to the Kasikorn Research Centre, the estimated economic losses from the haze and smog problem on tourism in the North during the five-day Songkran festival this year (April 13-17) could be as high as 700 million baht.
La-iad Bungsithong, manager of Ratilanna Riverside Spa Resort in Chiang Mai, said March is in the low season with hotel bookings usually at 55-60%.
However, this year's pollution worsened and the bookings fell to 45%.
Nanthaporn Komolsitthivej, a senior staffer at Thai Lion Air, said the ultra-fine dust pollution clearly affected travel demand to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai this year.
Usually, extra flights are provided to accommodate a sharp increase in demand, but the number was lower than anticipated this year, she said, adding Chiang Mai was among the top destinations during the Songkran festival, but it slipped from the top five this year due to the haze pollution.
According to the Public Health Ministry, 2,648,243 people were affected by haze pollution from 2020-2023.
Chiang Mai recorded the highest number of 649,032, followed by Chiang Rai (467,574) and Lampang (396,271).
Bannarot Buakhli, an adviser to a council in Chiang Mai, on Wednesday urged the government to include Om Koi wildlife sanctuary in its forest fire management plan.