Thailand is battling the environmental impacts of mass tourism, and is investing 13 billion to attract even more tourists

Thailand has been battling the negative environmental impacts of tourism for some time. This year, as many as 40 million tourists are expected, and within ten years the inflow could increase ...

Thailand has been battling the negative environmental impacts of tourism for some time. As many as 40 million tourists are expected this year, and within ten years the inflow could increase by another 25 million, reports Bloomberg.

Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy plans to invest about $ 13 billion in expanding airport capacity and connecting large terminals to high-speed rail. As a result, the number of foreign tourists could jump by more than 60 percent by 2029 and equal the population of the United Kingdom, according to estimates by the World Tourism and Travel Council (WTTC).

Tourism is the lifeblood of Thailand’s economy, and visitor numbers are one of the reasons why the Thai baht is the strongest currency in Asia this year. Yet the challenges the country faces, such as floods, have long-term consequences for its environment. For example, the iconic Maya Bay beach, known for the cult film "Beach" with Leonard DiCaprio, has been permanently closed to visitors to help the ecosystem recover.

"The country cannot tolerate such a sudden increase in the number of touristsSaid Somprawin Manprasert, chief economist at Ayudhya PCL, a Thai subsidiary of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group. "We need to introduce a better system for managing destinations and tourists, which can help with congestion and environmental problems. Still not enough is being done."

Thailand is not the only destination facing the negative consequences of mass tourism, from damage to coral reefs, to pollution of the sea with plastic, garbage and sewage. Neighboring countries, such as the Philippines and Indonesia, face similar challenges.

But the difference is that tourism makes up a fifth of Thailand’s economy, which is why managing the sector is a key issue for the country’s prosperity. Arrivals have moderated in recent months which is presumably a temporary occurrence due to the weakening global economy.

Officials have been trying for years to attract tourists to less visited parts of the country to ease pressure on traditional destinations such as Bangkok and the Phuket resort. But these initiatives have only partially succeeded.

Current and capacity after the expansion of Thai airports

Plans to upgrade Thai infrastructure include adding new terminals to two international airports in Bangkok, as well as expanding the one near the Pattaya resort.

This would, by 2025, expand the capacity of all three facilities to 190 million passengers from the current 78 million. National airports manage many more passengers than the capacity for which they are intended.

But traffic improvements are not enough to ensure the sustainability of tourism, said Weerasak Kowsurat, a former Thai tourism minister currently serving in the Senate.

"We need to work to improve water and energy efficiency and reduce the use of plastics and recycle more", He concluded.

Source: Bloomberg / Photo:

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