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Identify the economic, social, and environmental impacts of tourism on Thailand
Thailand is a very popular tourist destination. Nowadays, the world is experiencing a shift away from traditional patterns of international tourism because of increased wealth and access to travel and as a result and as TEFLAsia illustrates, Thailand is now in fact Southeast Asia’s biggest tourist destination. The reasons for its popularity as written by STA Travel (2003) include the ancient architecture, warm hospitality, savoury cuisine and overall natural beauty. Amongst computer parts, garments, rice and jewellery, tourism is one of the major industries of Thailand and is heavily relied upon.
Thailand also receives higher levels of tourists as demographics change; older people travel more, more leisure time is available for individuals and because travel has become more sophisticated. Although, this has led to the development of more infrastructure and only now are governments and individuals alike becoming more aware of Thailand’s environmental, social and economic situations. This essay will establish the different impacts and effects that tourism has on Thailand.
There are numerous positive and negative effects of tourism on Thailand’s environmental, social and economical situation. The most recent and obvious impact on Thailand’s economy has been the Tsunami disaster on 26th December 2004. The result of this disaster, according to Thadani, M (2005), will see the decline in the number of tourists who will visit Thailand in the coming years. Other negative impacts of tourism include the possibility of raised inflation so it is essential that the Thai government ensures that local people are employed to keep the money and skill within Thailand. Tourism accounts for 12.2% of Thailand’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and nearly, nine per cent of the population is employed within the tourism industry, a higher proportion of people to be affected if Thailand’s tourism industry collapses. Although, tourism in Thailand creates many jobs, these jobs are often poorly paid with little job security and have low career status. However, on a positive stance, tourism supports other industries such as agriculture because individuals are paid to supply extra food to accommodate tourist needs. This confirms that tourism is an essential industry for Thailand and in order for the country to prosper they need to attract the tourists, to avoid economic downturn. Further, without tourists Thailand would be significantly different and the more remote areas would suffer because tourists act as an economic catalyst for other areas of Thailand as well as the more popular resorts such as Phuket. Tourism can also be used as a tool for Thailand’s economic growth through improved conditions for the host community and will raise the profile of the country which will improve the level of service that can be provided.
However, the Tsunami is not the only disaster/ event to affect Thailand in recent years. The country has also had to deal with the indirect effects of the September 11th 2001 crisis, followed by the SARS outbreak and also the Bali bombing attacks in 2003. All of which has reduced the number of tourists to Thailand. The effects of September 11th lead to a decline in outbound travel to Thailand, mainly from America and the SARS virus reduced all tourism to Asia except essential travel. After these events 2004 was showing signs of increased travel to Thailand until the Tsunami. As said by Thadani, (2005) the Thai Government were making efforts to invite tourists back to the country weeks after the disaster in a bid to prevent economic disaster.
On a more positive note for tourism and the Thai economy, the country appears to be working towards recovery despite having lost nearly 10,000 people (unofficial estimates), many of who were international tourists. Thadani (2005) suggests that the government is keeping the actual death toll low so that tourists are not deterred from travelling to Thailand, which heavily relies upon the income from tourism. Thailand is estimated to lose US$260 million a month as a result of this disaster, which could destroy the economy and create irreversible effects to the local community. However, it must be noted that although popular destinations such as Phuket and Krabi were badly effected, other hotspots like Bangkok, Samui Island and Chiang Mai, Pattaya remain completely booked.
Tourism brings many negative social impacts to Thailand as a host country of tourism. Firstly, tourism brings a change in characteristics of the host community. For example, many locals sell drugs to tourists as a way of earning money. The World Bank Office of Thailand recognises that, drug pushing creates problems such as anti-social behaviour, increased crime and reduced safety. This has an effect on tourist numbers as many will not travel to countries which are deemed unsafe. Further, as tourism grows in Thailand many businesses have moved from being run locally to being owned by national or international companies which creates leakages in the Thai government with less spending money going back into the Thai economy. Moreover, Thailand has seen an increase in staged authenticity for the tourists; local traditions have become a product for the tourist, which is slowly destroying the original culture in Thailand. Another, negative affect on tourism, according to Graham (2003) is the demonstration effect which creates a long term effect on the local community by being exposed to different cultures and wealth. This changes locals’ behaviour and needs and may for example encourage the Thai people to dress differently or abandon their religion.
However, tourism in Thailand has enabled the locals to earn money from the chores they initially completed in the home, such as cooking and cleaning. This has increased the living potential of many in the host community. Further, locals have a chance to mix with wealthier individuals which can give them an insight into what can be achieved if tourism is a success in Thailand.
As Thailand relies so heavily on the income from tourism, the tourists’ needs outweigh those of the hosts. Therefore, Thailand is creating facilities at a fast rate to cope with visitor numbers. However, the locals and the government must realise that Thailand’s environment forms the attraction for people to visit the country. According to STA Travel (2003), over-development on Ko Phi Phi is starving the coral reefs of sunlight and smothering the surface in pollutants: the destruction of the reef is a small example of the problems occurring throughout Thailand and blamed on tourism. If Thailand’s natural beauty is not preserved tourist will likely travel to other destinations in the future. Other negative impacts include the deterioration in air and water quality, mainly due to air traffic and the urbanisation of natural areas. A good example of this is Krabi; it was fairly undiscovered but now hotel resorts are quickly being erected which is diminishing much of the natural environment that pre-existed. However, these newly developed areas do have a proper sewage disposal facility which earlier tourism developments did not which illustrates the Thai’s awareness of the need for environmental protection due to the impacts of tourism. The following example further shows peoples’ awareness of Thailand’s environment being affected by tourism because in May 1999, STA Travel describes how protestors packed the beach where the filming of ‘The Beach’ was taking place. Environmentalists were concerned that filming would destroy the delicate eco-balance of the beach. These areas of natural beauty could well be conserved if awareness is created about the need for their protection due to increased tourism. This would create positive environmental impacts as Thailand can control and maintain its environment. An example of this is the Golden Temple which is located in Bangkok, Thailand’s capital. Through a visit I discovered that donations and government money are set aside to restore this building, which would otherwise be neglected.
In essence it seems that Thailand is aware of the increasing number of tourists over the years and is therefore trying to facilitate this by increasing the country’s infrastructure. The government should ensure they regulate developments to ensure that every new hotel, business and attraction is built in keeping with the local style otherwise tourist will lose interest in Thailand.
In accordance with Holden, (2000) Thailand needs to comply with four main requirements in order to ensure tourism is sustained. Firstly, it is essential that Thailand remains prosperous and maintains its original culture. This is likely to reduce the negative effects from tourism because and secondly, tourists will continue to demand trips and be attracted to Thailand. Thirdly, nothing must be done to the ecology; it must be protected in order for the natural beauty to remain and lastly, Thailand must ensure that it has an effective political framework in place. The abovementioned categories are used to establish issues and indicate if tourism has a positive or negative effect on the area in question. Holden describes that the impacts of tourism on Thailand can be identified by establishing the relationship between the natural environment, the local economy and tourism. To further explain the Thai economy is dependent upon tourism, if the country builds sufficiently and maintains environmental quality the country will likely benefit from a well balanced tourism industry.
If the tourism factors which affect Thailand are better managed, it will create sustainable tourism in Thailand. According to the UNEP (2002), managing tourism destinations is an important part of controlling tourism’s environmental impacts. As written by OurWorld, the tourism boom has had a negative effect on the Thai environment and as a result the government now manages ecotourism. Better management of tourism impacts will allow the Thai Government to better plan the use of their land, implement effective environmental regulations and rejuvenate buildings. Every environment in any country cannot be preserved intact, therefore it is necessary for the Thai government to use its resources sparingly within its limits of regeneration and natural growth. Furthermore, according to UNEP, the Thai government should establish licence fees for fishing and use these funds to maintain the forests and wildlife in Thailand. Better management of tourism facilities, especially hotels, will allow Thailand to preserve its buildings and natural beauty. I agree with the UNEP that by Thailand planning early for tourism development, damaging and expensive mistakes can be prevented, avoiding the gradual deterioration of environmental assets significant to tourism. In every respect, tourism has the opportunity to increase public appreciation of the environment in Thailand and spread awareness of environmental, social and economical problems.
As already mentioned tourism has a massive impact on the host community. It is also possible to better understand the impact of tourism on the tourist. Tourism in Thailand is becoming mass tourism and thus will become a greater income generator for the host community allowing them to improve their lifestyles. However, Buddhism is strongly indented into the Thai culture and tourism has not effected or changed the religion, which shows signs of a strong culture. The influence of tourism on the host community has however taken its toll as Thailand’s economy, amongst other aspects, has become too dependent on tourism and according to OurWorld people feel that change and development due to increased tourism is happening too fast. Moreover, the rapid change is due to the tourists’ increase need for tourism and their demand for better facilities and long haul holidays. These negative impacts have led the Thai government to introduce proper legislation to protect the poor Thai people and prevent tourists from destroying Thailand. According to ThaiTour, the government is looking to establish a ‘multi-agency’ task force to stop the confusion among the many different tourism departments in Thailand.
In all it is evident that many tourism factors are contributing to both positive and negative impacts upon Thailand. It is important that the country realises the problems and take steps to sustain tourism. The key is to find a balance to manage the effects of tourism on the country. The type and volume of tourists that Thailand attracts and their activities and behaviour in the country will influence the nature of their impacts. Effective planning, development, management and marketing of tourism are essential to optimise the positive impacts and control and reduce the negatives. Further, the more we educate the tourists and the local community about the effects of tourism the better chance of Thailand succeeding in sustainable tourism, a stable economy and protected environment.
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