Tourism is one of Thailand’s largest income generating industries, with an annual revenue of TBH 1,309.1 bn in 2014 (World Travel and Tourism Council, 2015: pg 1). While the country has definitely prospered from tourism, the demand that comes with catering to millions of tourists each has had a negative impact on Thailand’s environment. The environmental issues that Thailand faces as a prime tourist destination must be addressed as soon as possible in order for its tourism industry to continue to exist and flourish into the future.
The expansion of Thailand’s tourism industry has led to an increased demand of its environmental resources. Forests are destroyed to make way for luxury hotels, large amounts of water is consumed to maintain swimming pools and golf courses, and waste management has become a huge issue (Ping, 2011). Furthermore, the influx of tourists has also brought about noise pollution (Lertsawat , 2009), congestion, and an increase in carbon emissions (Trading Economics, n.d.).
Fortunately, the Thai government has recognised the importance of ‘greening’ the tourism industry and in 2003, established the Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration (DASTA) whose main objective is to educate various stakeholders on sustainable tourism development in Thailand (DATSA, n.d.). In a 2014 sustainable tourism report, DATSA noted that the top-down tourism development policy that prioritises the needs of tourists and calls for faster development is not a sustainable model for Thailand (DATSA, 2014: pg 9). As a solution, the organisation suggests that a multi-stakeholder development plan where key stakeholders such as businesses, the government, local residents, are linked together is enforced in order to achieve a more wholesome approach to sustainable tourism (DATSA, 2014: pg 11).
There has also been a growth of interest in sustainable tourism amongst travelers worldwide, as the Thai Ecotourism and Adventure Travel Association writes:
“The current trend of tourism is Ecotourism, a kind of tourism that shows a concern for environment, culture, tradition and sustainable interest of this planet Earth… [and] creates economic revenue, a fair distribution of income to local people and at the same time a conservation of the environment, culture and tradition (Thai Ecotourism and Adventure Travel Association, n.d.).”
An exemplary example of sustainable tourism is the Kanchanaburi Elephant Haven, where visitors are able to learn about and interact with elephants, while also providing them the relevant funds needed to care for them. This sort of tourist activity not only enhances the lives of the endangered species and their carers. It also allows tourists to have a deeper understanding of the environmental issues that Thailand faces, and enables them to have a direct and positive contribution to the issue.
Efforts to create a more sustainable tourism industry can be seen in other parts of Thailand.
Planet 21 is a “commitment in favour of sustainable development” by Accor Hotels (Accor Hotels, 2016). Signs are placed all throughout the Novotel Hotel in Phuket to proudly tell guests about how the company is making changes to become more eco-friendly.
Perhaps other large hotel chains like Hilton and Dusit International that attract thousands of tourists can also follow suit and make their move to become more environmentally friendly.
Another great environmental initiative is the Pun Pun Bangkok Bicycle Share, where locals and tourists alike are able to loan a bike for a short period of time. This eco-friendly form of travelling is a smart way of alleviating the pollution and congestion in big cities like Bangkok. Other cities and tourist hubs like Chiang Mai, Pattaya, and Phuket could also adopt the bicycle share.
Thailand is a country known best for its natural beauty. If key environmental issues are not taken care of then what will Thailand and its people be left with? Creating a sustainable tourism industry will be a huge undertaking, but even a small contribution from industry stakeholders and a better education on the matter can make a huge difference. Introducing recycling bins throughout major cities, or maybe even simple educational video on how to become a more eco-friendly tourist in planes travelling to the country can kick start Thailand’s journey to sustainable tourism.
Accor Hotels. (2016). Planet 21. Viewed 29/07/2015 http://www.accorhotels.com/gb/sustainable-development/index.shtml
DATSA. (2014). DASTA’s Research Collection on Sustainable Tourism. Vol.2 No.1 ISSN 2351-0080. Petchrung Print Center Co: Bangkok, Thailand.
DATSA. (n.d.). Homepage. Viewed 01/08/2016 http://www.dasta.or.th/en/
Lertsawat, K. (2009). Environmental Noise Regulations in Thailand. Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Law. Thammasat University, Thailand.
Ping, X. (2011). Environmental Problems and Green Lifestyles in Thailand. Assumption University, Thailand.
Thai Ecotourism and Adventure Travel Association. (n.d.). Travelling in a sustainable way in Thailand. Viewed 02/08/2016 http://www.teata.or.th/
Trading Economics. (n.d.). C02 Emissions (Metric Tons per Capita) In Thailand. Viewed 07/08/2016 http://www.tradingeconomics.com/thailand/co2-emissions-metric-tons-per-capita-wb-data.html
World Travel and Tourism Council. (2015). Travel & Tourism: Economic Impact 2015 THAILAND. Viewed 04/08/2015 https://www.wttc.org/-/media/files/reports/economic%20impact%20research/countries%202015/thailand2015.pdf