Thailand overtourism: Paradise destination welcomes you back, but only if you're 'high-end'

Tourists walk on a beach on the Thai island of Phuket on November 1, 2021, as Thailand welcomes the first group of tourists fully vaccinated against the Covid-19 coronavirus.

The country is aiming to ditch mass tourism by encouraging 'quality' visitors.

Thailand’s strict COVID measures meant international travel has ground to a halt during the pandemic. But now, with tourism set to start up once again , the country is not sure it wants the same type of visitors to return to its shores.

Historically the country has attracted a huge number of tourists, from unruly gap year backpackers to large tour groups who show little care for the environment.

Now Thailand wants to move on from its ‘hedonistic’ history of mass tourism, with Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn stating the focus should be on "high-end travellers, rather than a large number of visitors.”

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One location that would be glad to see change is the Phi Phi islands, world-renowned for their white beaches and clear blue waters. While lockdowns kept international travellers away, this region was quietly recovering from years of overtourism.

Before the pandemic, Phi Phi National Park saw more than 2 million visitors every year with 6,000 people a day making the trip to the world-famous Maya Bay. This uncontrolled mass tourism left the region’s delicate ecosystem in disarray.


“The coral cover has decreased by more than 60 per cent in just over 10 years,” Thon Thamrongnawasawat of Kasetsart University in Bangkok tells AFP.

The problem got so bad that in 2018, Thon pushed authorities to close part of Maya Bay . It has been closed ever since and, with strict travel restrictions meaning visitor numbers in the region dwindled to almost zero, nature has started to recover.

Endangered whale sharks have been seen off the coast, turtle species have returned and more than 40 per cent of the coral fragments replanted in Maya Bay have survived.

Thon calls it “a very satisfactory figure obtained thanks to the absence of visitors.”

To make a full recovery though, these coral reefs would need another two decades without visitors.

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Reimagining travel to Thailand

There are still many people in Thailand who rely on tourism as a source of income, however, and now the Thai government is hoping to reignite the industry with a focus on a more sustainable kind of visitor.

In the wake of the pandemic, it is preparing to launch a long term residence programme that targets four types of people. Visas, tax incentives and relaxed property ownership rules are intended to attract professionals looking to work from the country , alongside highly skilled people, wealthy global citizens and retirees.

To attract ‘quality’ visitors, the government is also relaxing regulations around yachting and is revisiting taxes on personal belongings and luxury goods.

Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand Yuthasak Supasorn has said that in order for the country's tourism sector to be sustainable in the future, it needs to attract high-value travellers.


Phi Phi is also hoping to change its tourism reputation and National Park chief Pramote Kaewnam insists the same mistakes will not be repeated.

Boats will no longer be allowed to enter Maya Bay, instead they will be redirected to a pier away from the famous cove on the other side of the island. Only eight watercraft will be able to dock, with visitor numbers limited to 300 people at a time. Tourists will only be allowed an hour-long visit.

Designated areas for water activities are also being set up to try and limit the impact on ocean life.

Across the country, the aim is quality rather than quantity as Thailand's tourism industry recovers from being closed for almost two years.

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Addressing the Benefits and Consequences of Tourism in Thailand

tourism in Thailand

Thailand’s 2004 Tsunami Recovery

Tourism both aided and hindered Thailand in its post-tsunami state. With a high need for jobs and funds, many luxury hotels were able to reopen within months. Unfortunately, some groups such as migrant workers had a difficult time receiving aid, if they even received any at all.

The event was also a catalyst for the marginalization of those in a lower socioeconomic status as many were barred from returning to their homes in popular tourist areas such as the beach. It is estimated that upwards of 10,000 were either prevented from returning or an attempt was made to prevent them from returning.

The Marginalized in Thailand

The country’s social bias against migrant workers, immigrants and refugees is one of Thailand’s biggest criticisms. People in these marginalized groups are at a legal disadvantage compared to Thai citizens. Migrant workers are at the will of their employer, needing a “ termination and employer transfer form ” (in other words, permission from their current employer) in order to switch jobs. Research by the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 2010 found 33 to 50 percent of employers in the fishing, domestic and manufacturing sector used this law to their advantage to prevent losing migrant workers as employees.

There are also multiple reports of migrant workers being punished by law in what seem like uncertain situations. One example is the fourteen migrant workers who filed a complaint against their employer for exploitation , thus damaging the company’s reputation. This resulted in the employer filing a lawsuit against the workers with potential consequences being imprisonment and fines. 

Another unfortunate example occurred in 2015 when two migrant workers from Myanmar were sentenced to death for the murder of two tourists; the case was marred by police misconduct such as the mishandling of evidence and the alleged torture of the workers. While it is difficult to find an exact number of migrant workers convicted of a crime in Thailand, it is becoming increasingly clear to the world that this is a human rights issue that needs to be addressed.

Sex Tourism in Thailand

Prostitution was outlawed in the 1960s, but Thailand still has a growing trade revolving around paid sex. There is no way to get a real number on those traveling for sex tourism in Thailand, but NGOs estimated 70 percent of male travelers were visiting specifically for the sex industry in 2013. Prostitution does not have a social stigma in Thailand like in other countries and many Thais have accepted it as part of the culture, creating growth in the industry despite questionable legalities.

Medical Tourism in Thailand

Many tourists travel to Thailand because of the low-cost medical treatment. In 2006, about 200,000 tourists traveled to Thailand explicitly for medical treatment. By 2011, that number rose to half a million .

According to insurance company Thai Expat Club , Thailand was third in the world as the most likely destination for health tourism in 2016. Many medical tourists are saving at least half of what they would pay in the US. Add on recovery by the beach or in a resort and it is no wonder Thailand has become the medical hub of Asia.

Tourism’s Impact on the Environment

With tourism in Thailand increasing, trash increases as well. Unfortunately, Thailand’s infrastructure has been unable to keep up. A common assessment has been waste left over from beach parties. It is estimated that Ko Phangan Full Moon beach parties leave about 12 tons of debris per day behind which mostly goes into landfills or the ocean.

Many groups are currently trying to highlight this issue which will hopefully create a springboard for biodegradable materials and other environmentally conscious decisions. Some of the organizations partnering with Thailand to address the waste issues are the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency , which collaborates with Thailand to protect environmental laws, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature , which works on conservation within the country.

Tourism in Thailand is drawing in great opportunities such as growing jobs, a developing medical field and cultural awareness. However, there are some points of contention with prostitution, the waste problem and an increasing awareness of the marginalized in Thai society. Curbing environmental problems and working toward a more equal society will create a stronger Thailand and, ultimately, a stronger world.

– Natasha Komen Photo: Flickr

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Your Khun Thai

January 22, 2023

Exploring the Pros and Cons of Tourism in Thailand: A Personal Perspective

Thailand Culture

negative tourism impacts in thailand

As an avid traveler, I have been fascinated by the beauty and culture of Thailand for years. From the lush jungles to the sparkling beaches, the country offers something for everyone. But as the tourism industry continues to boom in Thailand, it’s important to consider the impact it has on the country as a whole. In this article, I’ll be investigating the impact of tourism on Thailand, from the benefits to the downsides.

One of the biggest benefits of tourism in Thailand is the economic boost it provides. The industry is a major contributor to the country’s GDP and provides jobs for millions of Thai citizens. Hotels, restaurants, and tour operators all benefit from the influx of tourists, and many locals are able to improve their standard of living as a result.

However, the downside of tourism in Thailand is the strain it puts on the country’s resources. With so many visitors flocking to popular destinations like Bangkok, Phuket, and Chiang Mai, the strain on infrastructure is significant. Transportation systems are often overwhelmed, and the demand for accommodation can push prices up, making it difficult for locals to afford.

Another downside is the impact tourism has on the environment. The overcrowding of popular beaches, for example, can lead to erosion and damage to coral reefs. The waste generated by tourists, such as plastic bottles and disposable bags, can also have a detrimental effect on the natural environment.

But, as a traveler, there are things we can do to minimize the negative impact of tourism in Thailand. One of the best ways is to support local businesses and avoid large multinational corporations. When it comes to accommodation, consider staying in locally-owned guesthouses or homestays, rather than big chain hotels. This way, you’ll be supporting local communities and keeping your money in the local economy.

If you’re interested in experiencing the natural beauty of Thailand, it’s important to be mindful of the impact your actions can have. When visiting beaches and national parks, be sure to stick to designated paths and do not remove any natural elements. Additionally, avoid activities that may harm wildlife, such as elephant riding or tiger petting.

In conclusion, while tourism in Thailand offers many benefits, it’s important to be aware of the negative impact it can have on the country’s economy, culture, and environment. By being mindful of our actions and supporting local businesses, we can all play a part in ensuring that tourism in Thailand remains sustainable in the long-term. From the bustling streets of Bangkok to the tranquil beaches of the southern islands, Thailand has so much to offer. By traveling responsibly, we can continue to enjoy all that this amazing country has to offer for many years to come.

About Suwanaboomja “Suwanaboomja – a globe-trotting blogger, money-making mastermind, tech-savvy translator, and content creator who combines her love for travel and illustration to inspire others to earn extra cash.”.

If this blog has been helpful to you, showing your support by liking and sharing it would be greatly appreciated. Additionally, consider following me for more content. My recommendations: For Booking your Train and Ferries  Click Here For Booking your Tours  Click Here For Booking your Flight Tickets and hotels in Asia  Click Here For Better Currency Exchange Rates  Click Here

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Tags: Cultural impact of tourism in Thailan Economic impact of tourism in Thailand Environmental impact of tourism in Thailand Negative effects of tourism in Thailand Positive effects of tourism in Thailand Responsible tourism in Thailand Sustainable tourism in Thailand ThailandTravel Tourism in Thailand Tourist behavior in Thailand. TravelinginThailand Vacation Guide

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What's the problem with overtourism?

With visitor numbers around the world increasing towards pre-pandemic levels, the issue of overtourism is once again rearing its head.

When locals in the charming Austrian lakeside village of Hallstatt staged a blockade of the main access tunnel, brandishing placards asking visitors to ‘think of the children’, it highlighted what can happen when places start to feel overrun by tourists. Hallstatt has just 800 residents but has opened its doors to around 10,000 visitors a day — a population increase of over 1,000%. And it’s just one of a growing number of places where residents are up in arms at the influx of travellers.

The term ‘overtourism’ is relatively new, having been coined over a decade ago to highlight the spiralling numbers of visitors taking a toll on cities, landmarks and landscapes. As tourist numbers worldwide return towards pre-pandemic levels, the debate around what constitutes ‘too many’ visitors continues. While many destinations, reliant on the income that tourism brings, are still keen for arrivals, a handful of major cities and sites are now imposing bans, fines, taxes and time-slot systems, and, in some cases, even launching campaigns of discouragement in a bid to curb tourist numbers.

What is overtourism?

In essence, overtourism is too many people in one place at any given time. While there isn’t a definitive figure stipulating the number of visitors allowed, an accumulation of economic, social and environmental factors determine if and how numbers are creeping up.

There are the wide-reaching effects, such as climate change. Coral reefs, like the Great Barrier Reef and Maya Bay, Thailand, made famous by the Leonardo DiCaprio film, The Beach , are being degraded from visitors snorkelling, diving and touching the corals, as well as tour boats anchoring in the waters. And 2030 transport-related carbon emissions from tourism are expected to grow 25% from 2016 levels, representing an increase from 5% to 5.3% of all man-made emissions, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). More localised issues are affecting locals, too. Renters are being evicted by landlords in favour of turning properties into holiday lets, and house prices are escalating as a result. As visitors and rental properties outnumber local residents, communities are being lost. And, skyrocketing prices, excessive queues, crowded beaches, exorbitant noise levels, damage at historical sites and the ramifications to nature as people overwhelm or stray from official paths are also reasons the positives of tourism can have a negative impact.

Conversely, ‘undertourism’ is a term applied to less-frequented destinations, particularly in the aftermath of the pandemic. The economic, social and environmental benefits of tourism aren't always passed on to those with plenty of capacity and, while tourist boards are always keen for visitors to visit their lesser-known attractions, it’s a more sustainable and rewarding experience for both residents and visitors.

What’s the main problem with it?

Overcrowding is an issue for both locals and tourists. It can ruin the experience of sightseeing for those trapped in long queues, unable to visit museums, galleries and sites without advance booking, incurring escalating costs for basics like food, drink and hotels, and faced with the inability to experience the wonder of a place in relative solitude. The absence of any real regulations has seen places take it upon themselves to try and establish some form of crowd control, meaning no cohesion and no real solution.

Justin Francis, co-founder and CEO of Responsible Travel, a tour operator that focuses on more sustainable travel, says “Social media has concentrated tourism in hotspots and exacerbated the problem, and tourist numbers globally are increasing while destinations have a finite capacity. Until local people are properly consulted about what they want and don’t want from tourism, we’ll see more protests.”

A French start up, Murmuration, which monitors the environmental impact of tourism by using satellite data, states that 80% of travellers visit just 10% of the world's tourism destinations, meaning bigger crowds in fewer spots. And, the UNWTO predicts that by 2030, the number of worldwide tourists, which peaked at 1.5 billion in 2019, will reach 1.8 billion,   likely leading to greater pressure on already popular spots and more objection from locals.

Who has been protesting?

Of the 800 residents in the UNESCO-listed village of Hallstatt, around 100 turned out in August to show their displeasure and to push for a cap on daily visitors and a curfew on tour coach arrivals.

Elsewhere, residents in Venice fought long and hard for a ban on cruise ships, with protest flags often draped from windows. In 2021, large cruise ships over 25,000 tonnes were banned from using the main Giudecca Canal, leaving only smaller passenger ferries and freight vessels able to dock.

In France, the Marseille Provence Cruise Club introduced a flow management system for cruise line passengers in 2020, easing congestion around the popular Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde Basilica. A Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) spokesperson said, “Coaches are limited to four per ship during the morning or afternoon at the Basilica to ensure a good visitor experience and safety for residents and local businesses. This is a voluntary arrangement respected by cruise lines.”

While in Orkney, Scotland, residents have been up in arms at the number of cruise ships docking on its shores. At the beginning of 2023, the local council confirmed that 214 cruise ship calls were scheduled for the year, bringing around £15 million in revenue to the islands. Following backlash from locals, the council has since proposed a plan to restrict the number of ships on any day.

What steps are being taken? 

City taxes have become increasingly popular, with Barcelona increasing its nightly levy in April 2023 — which was originally introduced in 2012 and varies depending on the type of accommodation — and Venice expects to charge day-trippers a €5 fee from 2024.

In Amsterdam this summer, the city council voted to ban cruise ships, while the mayor, Femke Halsema, commissioned a campaign of discouragement, asking young British men who planned to have a 'vacation from morals’ to stay away. In Rome, sitting at popular sites, such as the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps, has been restricted by the authorities.

And in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, meanwhile, the Narok County governor has introduced on-the-spot fines for off-roading. He also plans to double nightly park fees in peak season.

What are the forecasts for global tourism? 

During the Covid pandemic, tourism was one of the hardest-hit industries — according to UNWTO, international tourist arrivals dropped 72% in 2020. However, traveller numbers have since been rapidly increasing, with double the number of people venturing abroad in the first three months of 2023 than in the same period in 2022. And, according to the World Travel Tourism Council, the tourism sector is expected to reach £7.5 trillion this year, 95% of its pre-pandemic levels.

While the tourism industry is forecast to represent 11.6% of the global economy by 2033, it’s also predicted that an increasing number of people will show more interest in travelling more sustainably. In a 2022 survey by, 64% of the people asked said they would be prepared to stay away from busy tourist sites to avoid adding to congestion.

Are there any solutions? 

There are ways to better manage tourism by promoting more off-season travel, limiting numbers where possible and having greater regulation within the industry. Encouraging more sustainable travel and finding solutions to reduce friction between residents and tourists could also have positive impacts. Promoting alternative, less-visited spots to redirect travellers may also offer some benefits.

Harold Goodwin, emeritus professor at Manchester Metropolitan University, says, “Overtourism is a function of visitor volumes, but also of conflicting behaviours, crowding in inappropriate places and privacy. Social anthropologists talk about frontstage and backstage spaces. Tourists are rarely welcome in backstage spaces. To manage crowds, it’s first necessary to analyse and determine the causes of them.

Francis adds: “However, we must be careful not to just recreate the same problems elsewhere. The most important thing is to form a clear strategy, in consultation with local people about what a place wants or needs from tourism.”

As it stands, overtourism is a seasonal issue for a small number of destinations. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, a range of measures are clearly an option depending on the scale of the problem. For the majority of the world, tourism remains a force for good with many benefits beyond simple economic growth.

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Coronavirus: Tourism in Thailand hit by Covid-19

  • Published 13 March 2020

A deserted beach in Phuket, Thailand.

Over the past 25 years, Thailand has experienced a spectacular economic crash (1997), a tsunami (2004), coups (2006, 2014), the occupation of its main international airport by protesters (2008) and serious political violence (2010).

Yet the statistics speak for themselves. In 1960 around 80,000 foreign tourists came here.

Last year it reached 39 million, earning more than $60bn (£46bn) for Thailand, and indirectly contributing around one fifth of the country's national income.

The country's tourism sector was considered so robust that the country got the nickname "Teflon Thailand". Yet of those 39 million tourists last year, more than 10 million were Chinese.

Deserted streets of old Phuket Town

So when the Chinese government quarantined the city of Wuhan on 23 January, and stopped all overseas tours, the impact was felt immediately in Thailand. Shopping malls and temples in Bangkok were suddenly much quieter and less crowded.

As more flights from China were cancelled, the airports emptied. You could whisk yourself through passport control in no time.

For small-scale entrepreneurs, the collapse of Chinese tourism has been disastrous.

Many of them, such as flower sellers, traditional dancers, and the drivers of the famous "red cars" minibuses in Chiang Mai, are reporting their income dropping by half over the past month. The informal association representing tour guides in Thailand thinks 25,000 people are now out of work.

Nattakit Lorwitworrawat

One of the first successes of Thailand's 60-year-long tourist boom was the island of Phuket, nicknamed the "Pearl of the Andaman" for its soft white-sand beaches and sparkling warm seas.

The first foreign visitors in the 1980s and 1990s were mainly European and Australian, but the number of Chinese visitors last year shot up to about two million out of the 15 million foreigners.

The mangrove-lined inlets on the east side of the island, a contrast to the beaches facing the west, are where the boats leave from to take tourists out to the islands offshore. Like many of Phuket's residents, Nattakit Lorwitworrawat moved here from his home town elsewhere in Thailand to start a business.

His company now owns 30 speed boats, each able to carry 30 people. He has had to take 20 out of the water, and the remaining 10 are not getting much use. The inlet, normally constantly noisy from the sound of outboard motors, is now silent apart from the birds and the lapping water.

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"At the peak two years ago we carried 1,000 clients a day. Today if we get 200 clients, that is considered very good - we would be very happy with that," says Nattakit.

He has bank loans to service on many of his boats. If the crisis goes on beyond the end of this year, he says he will have to downsize the company and start laying off his staff.

For those lower down the food chain it is even tougher.

Somkiat Prasarn has a mortgage on his little house, and loans on the van and car he bought to take Chinese tourists out on day trips around the island. He is supporting four children and an elderly mother.

His monthly payments on the loans, he said, are around $1,500 a month. Could he hold out for six months, I asked him? "I cannot, sir," he says. Right now he is getting no custom at all apart from the occasional airport pickup.

A traveller being tested upon arrival at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok on 9 March

"The government needs to help us and soon," says Sarayuth Mallam, vice-president of the Phuket Tourism Association. "We don't ask for much. But if they want us not to lay off staff, they have to help us by cutting or delaying tax payments, social security payments, and giving soft loans to businesses here."

Sarayuth also believes the powerful Tourism Authority of Thailand needs to start promoting Phuket aggressively in other markets outside China, like Russia, India and Australia. If they can control the virus in three months, he says, we can survive and come back.

But nobody knows how long this crisis will last, nor how serious it will become. For the moment there are still plenty of Europeans, Australians and Russians on the famous beaches, but for how long?

The authorities here have managed to control and monitor infections well considering how vulnerable it was from the number of Chinese people visiting before the restrictions on travel were implemented.

Yet the country has already been placed on some government lists of places to avoid because of coronavirus risk.

And people are booking holidays for later in the year, including the traditional high seasons of July-August and December-New Year in Thailand.

Families with children from Europe or Australia are likely to think twice before travelling so far. And Thailand is now imposing its own restrictions, requiring 14-day quarantine for visitors from some countries, a list that may well expand.

A woman in a shopping centre in Bangkok

Who will risk booking a holiday in the sun if they end up spending it confined to their hotel room or a hospital?

With more flights being cancelled every week, the numbers of non-Chinese tourists are bound to fall steeply this year, however quickly the virus is brought under control.

The blow to this essential leg of Thailand's economy has come at a terrible time for the government. Already the other two main legs of the economy - manufacturing exports and agricultural commodities - are wobbling as higher wages and an overvalued local currency have been driving investors to cheaper neighbouring countries like Vietnam.

Growth in what was once one of South East Asia's "tiger economies" has been anaemic for several years, and may stall completely this year. The government, an unwieldy coalition controversially built around the same military leaders who led the last coup, is proving clumsy and unpopular.

It is an almost perfect storm, one that Thailand's present leaders look ill-equipped to weather.

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Thailand plans to reduce environmental damage

The Thai government is planning to adopt measures against increasing environmental damage caused by tourism on three popular islands in southern Thailand.

Thailand -  Phang Nga - James Bond Felsen

Starting in July, the government will ban fishing, fish feeding, anchoring on coral reefs, construction on the beach, and walking on the seabed on the islands, said Jatuporn Burutphat, director of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources on Friday.

The islands include Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Phangan. Koh Phangan is known internationally for its regular Full Moon Parties and is visited by almost one million tourists a year, while Koh Samui welcomed more than 2.3 million tourists in 2016.

Thailand's booming tourism industry, which accounts for up to 20 per cent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP), is seeing a continuous rise in the number of tourists each year. The Ministry of Tourism and Sports has projected that 37.5 million tourists will visit Thailand in 2018, up from last year's figure of 35.3 million.

"The amount of garbage and waste water on these islands is so big that it will become unbearable in the near future, and we have to think about the future," said Jatuporn.

People found violating the bans can face up to one year in prison and a fine of 100,000 baht (3,205 dollars), he said. Smoking has also been banned on 24 beaches nationwide since February due to huge amounts of cigarette butts.

is/ch (dpa)  

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Thai bay from 'The Beach' to close to boats

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Related topics.

Sustainable Tourism in Thailand – Ecotourism, Wildlife and Culture Guide

Thailand, the Land of Smiles, has firmly cemented itself as one of the most popular tourist destinations on the planet.

With 39 million people visiting the Southeast Asian nation in 2019 , the word is well and truly out on just how magical Thailand really is.

The international tourism industry in Thailand really started back in the 1970s, when travellers made their way here along the old ‘Hippie Trail’ from England.

This paradise was their reward after months of tough overlanding, with swaying palm trees, white-sand beaches, hospitable locals, and some of the tastiest food imaginable.

Today the magic is still alive and well in Thailand, and with so many incredible places to visit , it’s the kind of place you can visit again and again and always discover something new.

Locals welcome tourists with open arms, excited to show their local culture and customs to visitors and to improve their own livelihoods through businesses that cater to international travellers.

The impacts of the tourism industry on Thailand haven’t always been positive though, and with the growing number of people coming every year, there has been a number of issues arise.

As a responsible traveller , it’s important for us all to do our part to protect the countries we visit, including the environment, culture, local community, and wildlife.

READ MORE: Don’t miss our comprehensive guide to sustainable tourism .

Table of Contents

Closing Popular Tourist Destinations

‘no foam no plastic’, new heaven reef conservation, elephant nature park, the soi dog foundation, the gibbon project, phuket, bangkok tree house, soneva kiri – koh kood, rabeang pasak treehouse resort – chiang mai, always show respect to the king, do not turn your back towards buddha, watch where you point your feet, do not touch a person’s head, show respect to the monks, dress modestly, cover-up in temples, do not raise your voice, try to learn a few thai words, barter, but don’t be extreme, long-neck tribes, minimise your plastic use, do not litter, take public transport where possible, oceans and marine parks, travel off the beaten path, local community based tourism in thailand, sustainable tourism in thailand – the ultimate guide.

We’ve been fortunate enough to spend almost an entire year travelling and living in Thailand, and it is honestly one of our favourite countries in the world.

As part of our travels we’ve seen the best, and worst, of tourist behaviour and impacts here, which is why we have published this guide.

We are big advocates for sustainable tourism, and we are pleased to see it’s not just a global trend, but a movement that even the Thai government is taking very seriously.

Before you decide to travel to the Land of Smiles, make sure you read up on these tips and ideas on how to travel to Thailand responsibly.

Girl Walking Down Pier

The Thai Government’s Own Initiatives

In recent years, the Thai government has seen the impacts of the tourism industry, both positive and negative, and has taken a firm stance to improve sustainability throughout the Kingdom.

It’s uplifting to see a government take what may seem like drastic measures to protect their own environment and local culture, and they have become an example to other Asian nations on how sustainable tourism can really be beneficial.

To read more about this, be sure to check out their dedicated website, 7 Greens .

Here are some examples of what they have done in recent years.

Every year the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation takes extreme measures to protect the most heavily-visited regions of the country by closing them to tourists.

The biggest example of this when Thailand closed Maya Bay, the island close to Koh Phi Phi , which was made famous when featured in the movie The Beach.

Maya Bay Crowds

Over the years Maya Bay became a victim of its own beauty, with millions of tourists flocking into the narrow cove.

The huge numbers of people resulted in severe damage to the ecosystem, with marine life disappearing, waters becoming polluted and trash piling up.

The government closed access to the island in June 2018, citing the need for it to recover.

They are doing similar things to other popular destinations, often during the rainy season when the environment is at its most fragile, and are seeing excellent results.

On some of the most popular beaches in Thailand, the government has completely banned smoking.

They saw the damage cigarettes were doing, with tourists and locals leaving their butts on the ground, and the smoke causing health issues, and decided to remove the problem completely.

This ban is in effect in Phuket, Phang-nga, Krabi, Trang, Samui, Hua Hin, Cha-am, Chon Buri, Rayong and Trat.

The other big initiative that the Thai government and local businesses have introduced as of August 2018 is banning single-use plastics from all 154 national and regional parks around the country.

And in 2020 Thailand took it a step further by banning single-use plastic bags, with an aim to have these completely eradicated from all stores by 2021.

Koh Muk Beach

Ecotourism in Thailand

What is ecotourism? It is defined as: “tourism directed towards exotic, often threatened, natural environments, intended to support conservation efforts and observe wildlife.”

The concept of ecotourism in Thailand isn’t new, but it was always more of a niche offering compared to the typical resort-style travel that many visitors would do.

Today it is a different story though, and more and more businesses are incorporating ecotourism practices into their products.

You can find a variety of conservation projects in Thailand, focused on sustainable travel and environment and wildlife protection.

Environment Conservation Projects

Here are some of our favourite conservation projects focusing on sustainable travel and the environment:

Based on the spectacular island of Koh Tao, the New Heaven Reef Conservation , this organisation runs marine-specific courses and projects to protect and study the underwater world in the Gulf of Thailand.

Trash Hero is an initiative that has gone global but was started right in Bangkok.

According to their website, “TRASH HERO  is an energetic, volunteer-led movement that drives change within communities around the world, motivating and supporting them to clean and prevent plastic waste.”

So next time you’re in Bangkok, get in touch with them and join the crew for a waste clean-up.

Wildlife Conservation Projects

We’ll go into the wildlife activities further below in the article, but there are some excellent wildlife conservation projects that you can support when practicing sustainable travel in Thailand.

By far the best elephant sanctuary and conservation project in Thailand, Elephant Nature Park has been committed to protecting elephants since 1998.

Founded in Chiang Mai by the incredible Thai lady, Lek, ENP now has a number of projects around the country, as well as in Cambodia and soon Myanmar.

You can visit Elephant Nature Park for a day, or even volunteer for up to a month.

The Soi Dog Foundation has made it their mission to protect the thousands of stray dogs that are found all over Thailand and to end the dog meat trade in Southeast Asia.

You can help out by donating to their cause, or volunteering when in Bangkok or Phuket.

Soi Dog Foundation

The Gibbon Project is a fantastic conservation initiative that can be found in the popular resort town of Phuket.

The project rescues and rehabilitates these gorgeous, yet endangered, monkeys and then reintroduces them into protected natural habitats.

You can visit their facility in Phuket if you book ahead.

Wildlife Activities

Thailand is home to several impressive wildlife species, which many tourists naturally want to see when they travel to the country.

In general, the best way to stay responsible when it comes to travelling in Thailand is to not take part in any activity that exploits wildlife.

Perhaps the main animal people would like to see in Thailand is an elephant.

These beautiful, intelligent, and enormous creatures live deep in the jungles of Thailand and have been a part of local culture for centuries.

But did you know there is an estimated 3800 captive elephants in Thailand, with perhaps less than 1000 in the wild ?

One popular activity is to ride an elephant in Thailand, however, this is actually a very irresponsible thing to do for several reasons.

  • An elephant, while very strong, has not evolved to carry weight on its back.
  • The process of ‘breaking’ an elephant in order for it to be safe around tourists is extremely distressing.
  • Elephants used for riding are often overworked and malnourished in order to maximise their profit margin.

It is extremely important that you never ride an elephant, no matter how much you think it would be ‘fun’ or ‘cool’, and never visit an elephant show where they are forced to perform tricks.

Instead, it is much more wholesome to visit a reputable elephant sanctuary where the animals have been rescued and placed in a protected natural environment to live out their lives the way they were meant to.

Spending time around an elephant is an experience you will never forget, and is something you absolutely should do while visiting Thailand, but please do so in an ethical and responsible way.

We highly recommend the following sanctuaries:

  • Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai
  • Surin Project in Surin
  • Elephant Haven in Kanchanaburi

Elephant Nature Park

Another popular attraction for first-time visitors to Thailand are the ‘Tiger Temples’ that offer the chance to get up close and personal with a tiger.

As tempting as it is to get your selfie with a tiger, the truth is that what happens behind the scenes at these places doesn’t always have the tigers’ best interests at heart.

A tiger sanctuary in Kanchanaburi was raided in 2016 due to suspected trafficking and illegal breeding, and the Thai government ultimately seized all the animals that were on the property.

So where can you see a tiger in Thailand?

The World Wildlife Fund estimated that there are only 189 tigers in the wild , so unfortunately the chance of seeing one in the wild is very slim.

It’s not all bad news though. Tigers have recently been caught on tracking cameras in the far north of the country, showing that they are starting to make a comeback thanks to the Thai government’s restrictions on poaching and illegal logging.

There are currently no ethical tiger sanctuaries in Thailand.

There are five different types of monkeys in Thailand, and you will find them everywhere.

If you head to the south of the country they are extremely prominent around the islands, especially in places like Krabi.

Seeing them is always quite exciting, however, just like elephants, many macaques in Thailand have been captured and forced to perform tricks and shows for tourists.

Don’t support these shows, and instead hope to see some monkeys in the wild.

READ MORE: Be sure to read our comprehensive guide to travelling Thailand here .

Eco-friendly Accommodation in Thailand

Thailand has every style of accommodation you could ever imagine, from world-class 5-star resorts to basic bamboo shacks.

When it comes to choosing the level of luxury you want, the limit really is only your wallet.

However, on an eco level, the 5-star resort might be worse than the bamboo shack when it comes to looking after the environment.

This can be for a number of reasons, whether it is due to overtourism, large resorts not being able to control their environmental footprint properly, or putting an emphasis on profits.

And the larger the resort, the larger the impact. That’s why it’s important to look for eco-friendly accommodation when you practice sustainable travel in Thailand.

So what makes a hotel or guesthouse eco-friendly?

We wrote a dedicated post on how to choose sustainable accommodation here , but let us give the main pointers again.

This is what a hotel can do to try and focus more on sustainable travel:

  • Limiting energy consumption
  • Limiting water consumption
  • Reducing waste production
  • Using renewable energy
  • Promoting environmental education
  • Contributing profits to green charities
  • Using recycled and locally-sourced products

It seems pretty straightforward, and in all likelihood, you’re probably doing a lot of these things in your own home as well.

But when it comes to the hotel industry, it’s easy to do what is known as ‘greenwashing’, where they claim to be eco-friendly by doing a few things like telling guests to watch their water use, but then don’t do anything else on their end.

We recommend you give the article above a good read to get a better idea of this, but for now let us showcase some of the best eco-friendly hotels in Thailand.

Eco-Friendly Bamboo Raft House

Located in a literal jungle deep in the urban jungle of Bangkok, the Bangkok Tree House is one example of an accommodation that is not only doing their part to protect the environment, but also providing a unique experience for their guests.

Their ‘nests’ live high in the canopy, and you’re sure to fall in love with what they have built.

Bangkok Tree House is also fully committed to being green, and they’ve minimised their carbon footprint in every way possible.

They also use vertical gardens to grow their food and vegetables, and recycle or reuse all of their materials.

The island of Koh Kood is the go-to destination for lovers of luxury, and the swaying palm trees over powder sand beaches is a real drawcard.

If you do visit, we recommend staying at the number 1 eco-resort on the island – Soneva Kiri .

This is the one place where you can splurge out for an unparalleled experience (each villa comes with private infinity pools and a personal butler), knowing that your money is supporting community-based tourism and protecting the environment.

Soneva Kiri puts their profits towards coral restoration projects and supporting local communities, raising close to $6 million for people in need.

They are also completely carbon neutural and a pillar of sustainable travel.

If you’re travelling on a budget but still want to do what you can to support sustainable travel and ecotourism in Thailand, it’s worth checking out Rabeang Pasak Treehouse Resort in Chiang Mai.

The property is made up of sustainably-built treehouses just outside of the city, set in a stunning forest landscape with a focus on minimising their footprint.

The eco friendly facilities are basic, but you’ll fall in love with the simple way of living surrounded by the sound of nature.

Culture and Customs – Respecting the Locals

You may feel that sustainable tourism is all about protecting the environment and wildlife, but there is another element that needs to be considered – the human element.

One of the big rewards of travelling the world is having the chance to learn about new cultures, and in Thailand, the culture is one of the most fascinating you can encounter.

The predominantly-Buddhist nation is built on the ethos of kindness, hospitality and respect, and as soon as you touch down here for the first time you’ll know exactly what we mean.

Smiling Thai Locals

People bow (known as wai) to greet to each other with a warm “Sa wa dee”, and they finish each sentence with “ka” or “krup”, depending on whether they’re addressing a male or female, as a sign of courtesy and respect.

A visit to a Buddhist temple also gives a unique insight into the beliefs of the Thai people, and one of the best things you can do is simply sit and watch as they pray and make their offerings to get a better understanding into what Buddhism is about.

It’s important to open your heart and mind to these local customs when you travel to Thailand.

Things may be different to what you’re used to at home, but isn’t that the joy of travelling?

There are a number of unique customs that Thai people have that you should keep in mind and respect when visiting the country.

Here’s a breakdown of the most important ones.

The King of Thailand is the most revered person in the country, and Thai people love him dearly.

Do not show any disrespect towards him or the Royal Family (in fact it is against the law to do so) by talking negatively about them.

Anything with their likeness on it is also considered important, such as the local money that has the King’s portrait printed on it, so be careful not to cause any damage to this.

As an example, if you drop a note, do not step on it with your feet to stop it from blowing away, as this is considered disrespectful. Instead, pick it up with your hand.

When visiting a Buddhist temple, always face the Buddha and don’t turn your back towards him.

The proper way to exit a temple is to walk backwards to the door, turn at the last minute.

Thai Monk Walking

The feet, being the lowest part of the body, are considered to be dirty, and as such make sure you never point your feet towards somebody on purpose.

That is why Thais tend to sit on their feet or cross their legs, rather than sitting with their feet spread out in front of them – to make sure they don’t point them at another person, or Buddha.

The opposite of the feet, a person’s head is considered to be the most important part of the body, and it is disrespectful to touch somebody’s head.

When you see a Buddhist monk, whether it’s in a temple or out in public, always show respect to them.

Ways you can do this are to bow when they walk past, try to keep your head level below theirs (remember, it’s the most important part of the body), and giving up your seat for them.

Thai people are very modest and can be somewhat conservative. So you should make sure you always dress appropriately.

As an example, when you’re at the beach it’s ok to wear swimwear, but when you leave the beach make sure you cover up.

Do not wear a bikini or no shirt into a store or restaurant, and don’t walk around town showing excess skin, as this may make some locals feel uncomfortable.

As a good rule of thumb, look around at what the locals are wearing. If they’re not in a bikini, you shouldn’t be either, no matter how hot it is.

As an extension of dressing modestly, if you are entering a temple, make sure you wear appropriate clothing.

This includes covering your shoulders (ladies can usually get a sarong at the door to do so).

Thai people hate confrontation and raising your voice and yelling is one of the most disrespectful things you can do.

Even if you’re feeling frustrated at a lack of communication, or feel as though you may be getting taken advantage of in a transaction, keep your cool and speak in a normal tone.

You will achieve nothing by screaming at somebody, and you will lose all respect.

Always be polite, and the locals will be the same to you.

The Thai language is notoriously difficult to learn for English-speakers, and nobody expects you to become fluent in Thai during a holiday.

But locals will be very appreciative if you at least put a little bit of effort into speaking their own tongue.

Just pick up the basics, such as hello, thank you, how much, goodbye, and perhaps try to count to 10.

If you are shopping for souvenirs in a market, it’s normal to barter, but don’t go over the top and try to negotiate an extremely cheap price.

You might think it’s a game, but remember that the locals need to make a living too, and a few dollars here and there will help them out a lot more than it will you.

Thai Monks Giving Alms

Unethical Attractions Involving People

On an ethical level, there are a number of tourist activities and attractions that exploit the wonderful local people of Thailand.

As a general rule of thumb, be very cautious about joining any cheap tour that involves a visit to a minority tribe, involves children, and sexual exploitation attractions such as the infamous Ping Pong Shows of Phuket and Bangkok.

These are some of the most important ones to avoid.

In the north of Thailand, the famous long-neck tribes from the Karen and Kayan ethnic minority communities have been a unique example of where a tradition has been exploited for tourist reasons.

Many travellers want to come to these remote villages to see the practice of women putting rings around their necks to elongate them.

But what few people realise is that this tradition causes extreme health problems.

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In fact, many of these communities have expressed a desire to stop putting themselves through such a problematic modification of their bodies, but there is one reason to continue it – tourist dollars.

If it wasn’t for international tourists spending money to visit their tribes, they would stop the practice and return to their normal lives.

Another issue is that most of the money from these hill tribe tours don’t actually go to the local communities. Instead they are kept by the operators, and the villages make their money by trying to sell handicrafts.

Over the years the concept of ‘voluntourism’ has become popular for many visitors who wish to give back to the communities they are visiting.

While this is a noble idea, and for the most part people’s hearts are in the right place, there are issues with this type of tourism.

The biggest concern is when it comes to visiting orphanages.

Unfortunately there are several children who have been orphaned in Thailand, and it’s only normal to want to help them.

But unless you have experience with child care in these exact environments and are planning to stay for a long time, a day trip to an orphanage isn’t the best way to do this.

Instead the best way to help is to donate money and supplies through reputable charities.

Koh Mook Boys Smiling

Protecting the Environment

Thailand really is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and it has almost every type of landscape you could wish for.

When you decide to visit, it’s important to minimise your footprint and protect this spectacular environment.

Here are the best ways to do just that.

While Thailand is taking steps to remove all single-use plastics by 2021, you can do your part as well by bringing your own reusable items.

Make sure you add these to your Thailand packing list :

  • A reusable water bottle. Not only can you usually refill these from large jugs at your accommodation, Thailand also has reverse osmosis machines on almost every city block so you can get drinking water for as low as 1THB per litre.
  • A carry bag. Don’t take a plastic bag when you shop, and instead bring your own cloth one.
  • Metal cutlery. You’ll most likely be eating a lot of delicious food on your trip, but don’t just always grab the plastic cutlery available. Throw your own in your bag and save on waste.

This one is pretty self-explanatory, but you’d be amazed at how many tourists we’ve personally seen throw their rubbish on the ground or off the side of a boat.

Under no circumstance should you ditch your rubbish anywhere but in a bin.

No matter how much of an inconvenience it is to carry until you find one, do not contribute to polluting the earth by being careless.

Carbon emissions from airplanes and vehicles are quite high around the world, but you can minimise your own carbon footprint in a few different ways.

First of all, don’t take any more flights than you absolutely have to. For example, rather than flying from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, why not take the train?

Second, always go for public transport where possible. Take a public ferry or songthaew instead of renting a private boat or car.

Third, and even better for the environment, walk or rent a bicycle to get around.

Take extra care when spending time in the stunning Andaman Sea and Gulf of Thailand.

Plastic and trash often end up in the oceans, killing marine life and polluting the sea for future generations.

Also try to avoid any overcrowding of popular destinations. The last thing we need is another Maya Bay catastrophe.

Another way you can protect the oceans is to never touch sea life or coral.

This includes standing on reefs when snorkelling or swimming, and not collecting souvenirs from the sea.

Kanchanaburi Raft Houses

Avoiding Overtourism

Overtourism is when the amount of visitors a place receives reaches a level that is no longer sustainable from an environmental or societal viewpoint.

We’ve dived deeper into overtourism and ways you can combat this in this detailed guide , but we’d like to give some ideas here on how this applies specifically to Thailand. These tricks will help you navigate the tourism industry in a responsible way.

Rather than spending all your time in the most popular destinations in Thailand, consider visiting places that fewer tourists get to.

For example, Chiang Mai is absolutely incredible and definitely deserves a few days to explore, but when you’re finished here you can visit the lesser-visited Mae Hong Son.

Down in the south get out of Phuket and check out Trang or Koh Mook instead.

The benefits of getting off the beaten path is that you’ll have the chance to spend time in places that not as many international tourists see, and you’ll spread your tourist dollar to communities that really need it.

Finally in our sustainable tourism in Thailand guide, we will touch on the concept of local community based tourism.

Local community based tourism is where a visitor spends time in a local village and spends their money directly with vendors and small businesses rather than big operators or companies. Putting your energy and money into community based tourism rather than the big tourism industry is a great way to support the locals.

This simple mindset and action when travelling can have tremendous benefits for a local community and economy, and in a country like Thailand it is very easy to do.

Just like getting off the beaten path, we recommend you visit places that don’t see as many tourists and booking accommodation and activities directly with businesses.

You can spend the night in local guesthouses or eat at local restaurants to help inject your money directly into the local communities. There are many ways to try local community based tourism!

Happy Couple Koh Mook

About the Author - Alesha and Jarryd

Hey! We are Alesha and Jarryd, the award-winning writers and professional photographers behind this blog. We have been travelling the world together since 2008, with a passion for adventure travel and sustainable tourism. Through our stories and images we promote exciting off-the-beaten-path destinations and fascinating cultures as we go. As one of the world's leading travel journalists, our content and adventures have been featured by National Geographic, Lonely Planet, CNN, BBC, Forbes, Business Insider, Washington Post, Yahoo!, BuzzFeed, Channel 7, Channel 10, ABC, The Guardian, and plenty other publications. Follow our journey in real time on Facebook , YouTube and Instagram .

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5 thoughts on “Sustainable Tourism in Thailand – Ecotourism, Wildlife and Culture Guide”

thank you for helping me with my school

You are welcome. So glad we could help. 🙂

Thank you so much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I loved reading all your sustainable recommendations. I am planning to visit Thailand sometime next year, so this is super useful and informative! The elephant sanctuaries are on my list.

So glad you found the article helpful. It is so important to travel sustainably and know about the tours and the companies that you go with. Hope you have a great trip next year to Thailand. It is an amazing country. Definitely do your research on the elephant sanctuary. They can easily name themselves this but sometimes they are not a sanctuary. There is no one monitoring this in Thailand. Have a good one.

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Marine resource recovery in Southern Thailand during COVID-19 and policy recommendations

COVID-19 and subsequent government health containment measures have slowed down economic activities worldwide, particularly tourism. With the number of foreign tourists entering Thailand during 2020 and 2021 greatly diminished, the number of tourists at marine and coastal attractions in Southern Thailand has declined as well. This study found evidence of a relationship between the decline of the number of tourists and marine resource recovery. This recovery appears in the form of cleaner beaches, clearer seawater and increased sighting of marine animals. Between 2020 and 2021, official reports found increased sighting of dugongs, dolphins, blacktip reef sharks, whale sharks, leopard sharks, sea turtles, green turtles, hawksbill turtles, and false killer whales at marine national parks in Southern Thailand. The study also found that, prior to the COVD-19 outbreak, the number of tourists at Patong Beach and Maya Bay exceeded their tourism carrying capacities. Finally, this study proposes eight policy measures related to tourism management for marine resource sustainability: conservation and recreation zoning, enforcing marine park closure, redesigning marine park entrance fee systems, ensuring adequate recreational facilities, stricter enforcement of the law, promoting alternative tourism sites, encouraging more inclusivity and participation in decision making processes, and enhancing public awareness.

1. Introduction

With a total of 2614 kilometers of shoreline and 936 islands, Thailand is rich in marine resources and tourist destinations [26] . The more well-known marine destinations in Southern Thailand include the James Bond Island, Koh Samui Island, Patong Beach, Phi Phi Island, and Maya Bay. Each year, marine resources in Southern Thailand attract more than 50 million tourists. Although tourism generates significant income for the Thai economy, it also exerts pressure on marine resources and the environment.

In Thailand, tourism affects marine resources and the environment in several ways, such as, coral damage, collecting coral for souvenirs, solid waste generation, wastewater discharge, seagrass damage, beach littering, visual pollution and marine littering [26] , [29] , [39] . Moreover, tourism-related urbanization at coastal areas in the Eastern region of Thailand also imposes negative impacts on climate change resilience of the community, such as, impact on water scarcity through intensive use [27] . Maya Bay, where the Hollywood movie ‘The Beach’ starring Leonardo DiCaprio filmed one of its scenes, hosted more than one million visitors in 2017. As a result, the beach at Maya Bay was severely disrupted. The deterioration at Maya Bay included tourist overcrowding, conflicts between boat docking and swimming, coral destruction from snorkeling and use of illegal suntan lotion, fish capturing for photographs, fish feeding, fishing, seawater deterioration, and insufficient restroom and garbage disposal facilities. These events eventually led the Thai marine park authority to close Maya Bay from visitation in July 2018 [9] .

The COVID-19 outbreak that began in early 2020 affected the global community far more than the Subprime Mortgage Crisis or the Asian Economic Crisis. With a sharp reduction in both international and domestic travels, lockdowns, and working from home, COVID-19 significantly affected the wellbeing of societies around the world.

In the fishing industry, COVID-19 resulted in a decrease in fishery demand and had negative impacts on the seafood industry in many countries, such as, small-scale fisheries in Mexico [20] , salmon production in Chile [33] , fisheries in the European Union [19] , the aquatic food system, aquaculture industry, and small-scale fisheries in Bangladesh [14] , [17] , [36] , the aquatic food value chain in Asia and Africa [3] , and the livelihoods and food security in the Republic of Vanuatu [35] . The impact of COVID-19 on marine pollution, particularly the disposal of sanitary masks, still remains unclear. Estimates show an increase in sanitary masks that may end up in the oceans [7] , but other studies find no evidence of COVID-19 related products leaking into marine environment [28] .

Despite all these negative global impacts, some countries took the opportunity of decreased tourism and fishing demands to rehabilitate their oceans. For example, the United Kingdom, experiencing the negative impacts of COVID-19 in the commercial fishery industry, saw the opportunity to rehabilitate the fishery stocks by realigning fishery policies for future sustainability [18] . Higgins-Desbiolles [16] also suggests that the COVID-19 global shutdown should provide an opportunity to rethink and reset tourism towards a better pathway for the future. This pandemic may be an opportunity for Thailand as well. In Thailand, right after the COVID-19 outbreak and the large reduction in tourism, Thai media began reporting increases in marine animal sighting in several parts of the Southern Thai oceans ( Fig. 1 ). Linking the decline of tourist visitation to the increased marine animal sighting is important as it provides evidence that tourism is a threat to marine animals. Thus, if more concrete evidence can be collected to support this negative linkage between tourism activities and the wellbeing of marine animals, it will enable the Thai marine park authority to propose a stronger argument in favor of tighter regulations over tourism activities as a means for sustainable marine resource management.

Fig. 1

Media reports of increased marine animal sighting in Southern Thailand.

Previous pandemic events, such as, SAR or Cov-2 virus, demonstrated that decrease in human activities in marine ecosystems tends to have positive impacts on marine resource recovery. Coll [8] and Kemp et al. [18] illustrate that when the oceans are not disrupted, marine ecosystems can improve, with more frequent wildlife sightings such as baleen whales, dugongs, manatees, toothed whales, orcas, and dolphins, as they appear in unexpected areas. These increases in marine animal sighting may be due to reductions in accidental deaths, collision with boats, underwater noise and marine traffic, and fishing effort [8] . Hall [11] also recognizes that excessive growth in tourism can lead to deterioration at tourist destinations. This observation supports the argument of overtourism and a need for degrowth in tourism activities.

With this rationale, this study asks three research questions. First, is there evidence linking the level of tourism and sighting of marine animals before and during the COVID-19 pandemic in Southern Thailand? Second, do tourism activities at the study sites exceed their tourism carrying capacities? Third, what are the policy measures that will gear marine tourism and marine resource management towards sustainability?

The contribution of this study is to provide strong evidence for Thailand to recognize the cost of overutilization of marine resources and the need to tailor marine tourism policy measures to recognize the natural ecological limit. An important message this study aims to communicate to governments all around the world is that ‘COVID-19 provides an opportunity for marine policy adjustment leading to a healthier marine resource today and sustainable tourism tomorrow’ [8] .

Five marine recreational sites in Southern Thailand were selected for this study: Patong Beach in Phuket province, Maya Bay, Koh Rok Island, Koh Hong Island in Krabi province, and Koh Libong Island in Trung province. These study sites were chosen because their marine/natural resource endowments are tourist attractions.

2. Methodology

The study contains three components: first, linking the trends of tourism activities with marine animal sighting before and during the COVID-19 pandemic; second, calculating the tourism carrying capacities and compare them with the actual number of tourists; and third, proposing policy recommendations for sustainable marine resource tourism. Although several definitions of resource recovery can be used, this study measures resource recovery based on increases in marine animal sighting compared to historical levels [21] . Because of the short timespan between the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and this study, a healthier ocean will not appear in the form of increased marine animal population. Many megafauna species identified in this study take many years to recover from low population abundance (Lotze, [21] ). Rather, the decrease tourism traffic, marine disturbances, accidental deaths, collision with boats, underwater noise, or fishing effort may have led to increased sightings due to change in animal behavior and distribution [8] . These increased sightings are still an encouraging sign of recovery. When marine animals return to the surface and their original habitat ranges, this opens up increased opportunities for breeding, foraging, and creating safe spaces for juveniles.

For the first component, trends of tourism activities and marine animal sightings during the study period are shown. Pearson correlations are also calculated to show if there exist correlations between the number of tourists and marine animal sightings. At Patong Beach, where records on marine animal sightings do not exist because it is located outside national park boundary, trends of tourism activities against seawater quality were used instead.

On recreation carrying capacities, there has been increasing scrutiny on using numerical carrying capacity as a tool for managing recreational resources. McCool and Lime [25] are critical of the use of a numerical carrying capacity, as it may not reflect the appropriate balance between social and biophysical conditions of recreation nor will it reflect the optimum trade-off between the social benefits of the use level and the cost in terms of environmental impact. While such remark has its validity when addressing a specific recreation site, using numerical carrying capacity as a tool to gain an overview assessment of recreation activities is still useful. Calculating numerical carrying capacities based on available secondary data is beneficial in providing cost effective information as to where detailed attention should be directed. Once recreational sites that are heavily visited can be identified, the more detail analysis of tourism behavior vs. the biophysical impacts can be carried out. In this study, the calculation of carrying capacity serves as a tool to identify recreation sites that need a further looking into.

This study adopts two measures of the tourism carrying capacity calculations: Physical Carrying Capacity (PCC) and Real Carrying Capacity (RCC) as indicated in (1) , (2) [40] , [22] .

Where PCC = Physical Carrying Capacity (the number of visitors per day).

  • A = recreational area at study sites (square meters)
  • a u = recreational area recommended for a visitor (square meter per visitor)
  • Rf = rotation factor (the number of rounds of visitation each site can accommodate per day calculated by operating hours per day/average visitation hours per visitor). Rf takes the value of 1 for whole day recreation.

Real Carrying Capacity (RCC) measures PCC and also takes into consideration the number of days that can reduce visitation at the recreational site -- the correction factors. The study considers two limiting magnitudes that give rise to correction factors (Cf i ) that reduce recreational visitation: the number of rainy days per year and the number of thunder days per year. The total magnitude is the number of days in a year, 365 days.

Where RCC = Real Carrying Capacity (the number of visitors per day).

  • Cf i = correction factors i
  • Lm i = limiting magnitude of factor i
  • Tm i = total magnitude of factor i

PCC shows the maximum number of tourists recommended while RCC takes a close examination of the actual maximum number of tourists recommended by deducting days that recreational sites are out of service due to factors such as raining and thunders. Given all the five study sites are located in Southern Thailand that tend to receive higher precipitation than other parts of the country, RCC will be a more preferred measure of carrying capacity.

On policy recommendations, the study uses in-depth interviews with various stakeholders in marine resource management and marine tourism. Six groups of stakeholders are included in the in-depth interviews: municipalities, national park offices, marine and coastal resource offices, tour companies, local villages, and volunteer groups. The in-depth interviews cover discussion on the suitability of policy measures and implementation. The suitability of policy measure and implementation is assessed in four separate areas: legal feasibility, site suitability, local acceptance, and business acceptance. After the in-depth interview each policy measure is evaluated for each area separately whether such policy measure is (1) feasible/suitable/acceptable, (2) feasible/suitable/acceptable but needs further improvement, or (3) infeasible/unsuitable/unacceptable.

3. Study sites and data collection

The study adopted a five-year timeframe between 2017 and 2021 to cover activities both pre and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Establishing an appropriate geographical unit of analysis is essential as the volume of tourists need to be mapped against marine animal sightings and recreational areas. The marine animal sighting data is collected by the national park authority. The national park authority patrols the ocean to observe its condition every other day (around 14 days per month) by speed boat and inflatable boats. Each patrol involves five to seven officers who collect data, such as, Global Positioning System (GPS) location, marine animal sighting, or marine animal threats and deaths. The coastal resource authority, on the other hand, flies small aircraft using line transect method for a duration of 5–6 days. The line transect flights are carried out once a year only.

In linking the trends of tourism activities with marine animal sightings, the study adopts an island as the unit of analysis. Table 1 shows all the five marine study sites: Patong Beach, Maya Bay, Koh Rok Island, Koh Hong Island and Koh Libong Island. Patong Beach and Maya Bay are not islands per se, but they are included because of their policy relevance. The locations of these five study sites are shown in Fig. 1 .

Five study sites and their locations.

The number of tourists and the number of marine animal sightings were obtained from records of the national park offices in which the islands are located. The number of tourists at Patong Beach required additional calculation as Patong Beach is an open space and tourism data are not available. The number of tourists at Patong Beach is based on the total number of tourists coming to Phuket province, but scaled down proportionally by a fraction. The fraction used is the percentage of hotels at Patong Municipality to the total number of hotels in Phuket province. The study uses seawater quality records at Patong Beach, measured as the Marine Water Quality Index (MWQI), 1 from the marine and coastal resource office. As Koh Libong Island is located outside a national park, the data on the number of tourists and marine animal sightings were obtained from the marine and coastal resource office ( Fig. 2 ).

Fig. 2

Map indicating the locations of the five study sites.

On tourism carrying capacities, the study adopted a beach as the unit of analysis as tourism carrying capacities are specific to each recreational area. The recreational areas (A) are measured in square meters at each study site and the rotation factors (R f ) were obtained from national park offices. The Ministry of Tourism and Sports provided the values for the suitable recreational area per visitor (a u ). The number of rainy days per year (Lm 1 ) and the number of thunder days per year (Lm 2 ) were from the Thai Meteorological Department offices in the area. The total magnitude factor is 365 days per year.

On policy recommendation, the study interviewed a total of 28 offices and groups of people as indicated in Table 2 . During the in-depth interviews, officers, staff, and respondents were asked to discuss the suitability and feasibility of policy measures that will help balance tourism and marine resource sustainability. The policy measures discussed during the in-depth interviews are listed in Table 4 and the respondents were also given opportunities to suggests other measures they felt suitable. The in-depth interviews at Phuket province took place during December 16–17, 2020, Krabi province during March 8–11, 2021 and Trung province during March 15–18, 2021.

Number of agencies for in-depth interviews.

Note: Each agency may have several offices located in the study sites. Each office is interviewed one time only, but there may be more than one interview for each agency if such agency has several offices scattered in the study sites. Some agencies do not have offices on the island but their offices are located in the inland area of the provinces.

Policy measures and implementations.

Note: After each focus group discussion, the study team evaluated the outcome of each focus group. After all the focus group discussions were completed at the end of data collection process, the study team analyzed all the results and qualitatively assigned a color-code to each aspect of the policy measures. Fortunately, most people interviewed tended to have similar views on each aspect of the policy measures and there were no strong disagreements. This similarity in opinion occurred because each aspect of the policy measures, they are, legal feasibility, site suitability, local acceptance, and business acceptance, is evaluated separately therefore helped minimize disagreements.

*Feasibility/Suitability/Acceptability depends on site location.

4.1. Marine resource recovery

Patong Beach, a very popular tourist destination in Southern Thailand, is located on the mainland of Phuket province. Each year, Patong Beach hosts around five million visitors, but after the implementation of COVID-19 measures, the number of tourists drastically declined but started to return again towards the end of 2020 when the situation eased (see Fig. 3 ). Being a public beach on the Phuket mainland, Patong Beach is under the jurisdiction of Patong Municipality. As reports on the marine animal sighting at Patong Beach were unavailable, the study mapped the number of tourists against seawater quality. Prior to COVID-19, the seawater quality, measured as MQWI at Patong Beach from station 1–3, showed mixed results, but during COVID-19, the seawater quality improved at all three stations (see Fig. 3 ). The level of Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) also improved significantly from around 120 mg/l before COVID-19 to only 7.9 mg/l in December 2020. This indicates that tourism has a strong negative impact on seawater quality and most likely the health of marine resources as well.

Fig. 3

Number of tourists and seawater quality at Patong Beach, Phuket province. Note: BOD = Biological Oxygen Demand. It is a measure of water quality.

Maya Bay is also popular among tourists as it was used in one of the scenes in the movie ‘The Beach’ starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Fig. 4 (A) shows the number of tourists at Maya Bay reached as high as 1.2 million in 2017. With the continued deterioration in beach quality, the national park authority decided to close Maya Bay in July 2018 [9] . However, despite the close down of Maya Bay, a number of tourists (shown as the dotted line) still wished to cruise by and catch a glimpse of Maya Bay at a distance. With a decline in the number of tourists in 2020, the authority recorded as many as 132 blacktip reef sharks and a small number of leopard sharks, hawksbill turtles, and green turtles around Maya Bay. The Pearson correlation coefficients (r) between the number of tourists and marine animal sightings are negative, as expected. The p-values of Pearson correlations coefficients are also given in Fig. 4 (A).

Fig. 4

Marine resource recovery and the number of tourists at the four national park study sites. (A) Maya Bay, Krabi province (B) Koh Rok Island, Krabi province (C) Koh Hong Island, Krabi province, and (D) Koh Libong Island, Trung province. Patong Beach is not presented here as animal sighting data is not available, therefore water quality has been used to indicate resource recovery (see Fig. 3 ).

In 2020, the number of tourists at Koh Rok Island declined by about a half compared to the previous years (see Fig. 4 B). At Koh Rok Island and Koh Hong Island, the number of tourists began to decline since 2019 even before COVID-19 incidence that took place in the early quarter of 2020. As a result, 18 false killer whales, 2 whale sharks and 2 hawksbill turtles were sighted in 2020 when their sightings were not reported in the previous years. In 2020, Koh Hong Island experienced the similar decline of the number of tourists and reported sighting of 296 blacktip reef sharks when only 60 were sighted in 2019 and none were sighted during 2017–2018 (see Fig. 4 C). The Pearson correlation coefficients between the number of tourists and marine animal sighting are negative, as expected. Lastly, following the decline in the number of tourists at Koh Libong Island in 2020, the number of dugongs sighting rose from 186 in 2019–221 in 2020 (see Fig. 4 D). However, sighting of other marine animals, such as, whale shark, dolphin and sea turtle at Koh Libong Island fluctuated during the study period.

The negative correlations between the number of tourists and marine animal sighting are confirmed by their p-value statistics (at 90% significant level) at Koh Rok Island (B) for false killer whale, whale shark and hawsbill turtle, Koh Hong Island (C) for blacktip reef shark, and Libong Island (D) for dugongs and whale sharks. The correlations between the number of tourists and other marine animals are still negative, although not supported by p-value statistics.

4.2. Carrying capacity

Table 3 shows the calculations of tourism carrying capacities measured as PCC and RCC at all five study sites. Based on the suggested recreational standard of the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, Table 3 shows that Patong Beach is able to host 7500 tourists per day and 2952 tourists per day when taking into consideration rain and thunder. At Maya Beach, their tourism carrying capacities are 1040 tourists per day and 436 tourists per day when taking into consideration rain and thunder. Fig. 5 shows the actual number of tourists at Patong Beach exceeded their carrying capacities for all months even during the low tourist seasons. Only during COVID-19 did the number of tourists at Patong Beach fall within the carrying capacities. At Maya Beach, the number of tourists were more than triple the carrying capacity before it was closed down in 2018 (see Fig. 6 ). As for Koh Rok Island, Koh Hong Island, and Koh Libong Island, the numbers of tourists did not exceed their carrying capacities both before and during COVID-19.

Tourism carrying capacities.

Fig. 5

The number of tourists and the carrying capacities at Patong Beach, Phuket province.

Fig. 6

The number of tourists and the carrying capacities at Maya Bay, Krabi province.

At Koh Rok Island, the average tourist visitation per day before COVID-19 was 243 which is well below the RCC of 7794 visitors per day and during COVID-19 the average number of tourists dropped to around 85 visitors per day. At Koh Hong Island, the average tourist visitation per day before COVID-19 was 348 which is still below the RCC of 584 visitors per day and during COVID-19 the average number of tourists dropped to around 161 visitors per day. And, at Koh Libong Island, the average tourist visitation per day before COVID-19 was 561 which is still below the RCC of 1731 visitors per day and during COVID-19 the average number of tourists dropped to around 235 visitors per day.

4.3. Policy measures and implementation

The study undertook in-depth interviews with 28 agencies at the study sites. The in-depth interviews enabled the local staff, entrepreneurs, and local people to share their views on marine tourism policy measures in four areas: legal feasibility, site suitability, local acceptance, and business acceptance. The color-code in Table 4 represents the views of the.

majority of the respondents at all the five study sites. The opinion of the respondents from all the study sites tends to conform to the same direction, hence allowing the study to assign a color-code to each aspect of each policy measure. However, the respondents reported that implementation of each policy measure at each study site may vary depending on the local circumstances.

All agencies interviewed agreed that tourism should be geared towards marine resource sustainability. However, there is a need for a well-designed policy measure and implementation that balances the need for income generation today against marine resource sustainability tomorrow. Table 4 shows the results of the in-depth interview.

Tourism licensing is essential as it requires tour businesses to observe the code of conduct. However, violations are sometime observed, and a more effective enforcement of the code of conduct is needed. Zoning is seen as an essential element of marine resource management, but enforcing a maximum allowable number of tourists can only be implemented at marine national parks where laws are already in place and controlling tourist arrival on the islands is practical. However, imposing the maximum allowable number of visitors at public recreational sites, such as public beaches, remains a problem partly because there are no laws that prohibit tourists from entering public beaches, and preventing people from entering public beaches is also physically difficult. Similarly, while closing recreational sites for a given period is a suitable measure for island recreation, such measure cannot be implemented on public beaches outside national park jurisdiction.

There is skepticism with regards to imposing parking fees for public recreational sites as an indirect measure to control the number of tourists at public beaches. Site accessibility and lack of local acceptance makes this measure impractical. This is because it is known among the Thai people that the Thai law declares beaches to be public property and openly accessible. It was also agreed that more efforts are needed on strict law enforcement, raising public awareness, and providing rewards and incentives for environmentally friendly practices. A study at Koh Tao Island, Trad province, also found similar results. The authority and local residents at Koh Tao also view recreational zoning, limiting the number of tourists, creating public awareness, and regulation enforcement as key policy measures for marine resource sustainability [39] .

5. Policy recommendations

Preparing a set of policy prescriptions is key in marine resource management and sustainable tourism. Gearing tourism towards sustainability and becoming environmentally friendly is interdisciplinary in nature, encompassing of economic, social, cultural, political and environmental considerations. While combining views of different disciplines can be conflicting and involves trade-offs between objectives, a well-designed policy prescription where disciplines are well integrated and complement one another can actually enhance policy efficacy. Bramwell et al. [5] describes the evolution of sustainable tourism studies and shows that sustainable tourism general involves issues, such as, altering human behavior or attitude, social and production systems, transition from the old path to new path creation, governance system, interconnection between human and natural systems, and ethical and political considerations. In connection with COVID-19, several studies argue that tourism of pre-COVID-19 era may be characterized as overtourism and suggest for ways to rethink tourism leading to degrowth in tourism trend. (Higgins-Desbiolles [16] , [32] , [34] ).

Marine resource recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic at five study sites in Southern Thailand shows a strong link between the number of tourists and frequency of marine animal sightings. This information, coupled with the fact that the number of tourists at Patong Beach and Maya Bay also exceeded their carrying capacities, are crucial in supporting further investigations at these two study sites as to how tourism can be better managed leading to sustainability. Drawing the observed healthier ocean following the decline in the number of tourists led the study to propose ways to ease the tourism pressure on marine resources [4] . For successful implementation, policy measures also need to conform to the local conditions, namely, legal feasibility, site suitability, local acceptance, and business acceptance [21] . Therefore, this study finds that successful marine resource policy measures need to be indigenous and may need to vary with time and space. An experience drawn from Easter Island, Chile, shows that even the traditional Rapanui fishing management also needed to be modified to meet new challenges facing their fishery sector today [1] .

Based on the findings of this study and the in-depth interviews, this study hereby proposes eight policy recommendations that aim to ease the tourism pressure on marine ecology and promote sustainability in tourism and marine resource management.

5.1. Conservation and recreation zoning

Establishing zones where recreation is separated from conservation is essential for minimizing negative externalities from tourism activities and conservation as well as maintaining a well-balanced marine resource utilization. Zoning should be designated for fishery, aquaculture, beach recreation, scuba diving and snorkeling, vessel routes, vessel docking, park conservation areas, coral and seagrass conservation, and nesting and nursery areas. Zoning is currently practiced in some coastal areas in Thailand, such as, swimming vs motorized sport areas, or seagrass conservation areas, thus, expanding and enforcing the use of zoning as a tool for marine resource conservation is promising.

5.2. Enforcing marine park closure

Evidence from increased marine animal sighting during COVID-19 supports the view that giving marine parks a break from tourism will lead to healthier marine ecosystems. Marine park closure is already practiced in Thailand, but such measure can be extended without significant impacts on tourism. Marine parks can be closed for a period of months or years. If marine park closure is well planned in advance and the schedule is known to the public in advance, tour businesses can redesign their tour package programs to divert tourism to other marine parks that are in operation. Tourists can also make arrangements in advance and be minimally affected.

5.3. Advancing the marine park entrance fee systems

Most national parks in Thailand adopt some form of an entrance fee system. Marine national parks currently charge an entrance fee higher than that of inland national parks. This entrance fee system is useful in communicating congestion information to the tourists as well as incentivize tourists to visit the destinations during less congested time. Entrance fee differentiation can be established between weekend vs. weekday visitation, high season vs. low season, or between fragile vs. conventional marine sites. Entrance fee differentiation will help even out tourism traffic throughout the year and lessen the pressure on marine resources. The increase in revenue collected will also help strengthen marine park monitoring and management. Grilli et al. [10] conducts a willingness-to-pay study to advocate for using payment for ecosystem service for sustainable tourism projects and found that charging an entrance fee is feasible. It is also important to take into consideration the impact of marine park entrance fee systems on the low-income visitors and the local community. In these cases, entrance fee exemption or discounted entrance fee can be established for local citizens, children, the elderly, and other groups as deemed appropriate by the park authorities. Entrance fee exemption or discounts can be used during some public holidays, such as, labor day or national day.

5.4. Ensuring adequate recreational facilities

To lessen the adverse impacts of tourism on marine ecology, authorities should provide adequate recreational facilities for tourists. Such facilities include, for instance, clear boundary marking, warning and instruction signs, restrooms, garbage disposal, closed-circuit camera systems, global position system for vessels, or weather warning systems. Many tourists want to be involved in conservation efforts, but the authorities must provide adequate facilities that enable them to do so.

5.5. Strict enforcement of the law

Despite the best conservation efforts, violations of laws and regulations are inevitable. Frequent reports of violations include, for instance, fishing activities within marine national park areas and discarded plastic water bottles found in the ocean. With modern technology such as close-circuit camera systems, law enforcement can be carried out more effectively and at a much lower cost. The use of closed-circuit camera systems will also store evidence that facilitates further litigation.

5.6. Promoting alternative tourism sites

To ease the tourism pressure on marine resources, there is a need for the government, together with the private sector, to invest in substitute recreational sites as a means to diversify tourism activities. These additional tourism sites may include, for instance, marine animal hatchery center, coral and seagrass rehabilitation center, mangrove or coastal walking route, local cultural heritage center, water park, local markets, or cuisine and street walk. Engaging the local communities in providing sustainable tourism services has been recognized as an effective and beneficial. Such local community-centered tourism or localhood tourism is recognized to be an important part of sustainable tourism. Cakar, Uzut [6] In Fiji, it is found that the tourists place high value for community-based tourism management practices [38] .

5.7. Encouraging more inclusivity and participation in decision making processes

Currently, the Thai authority manages marine resources and tourism via committees comprising of representatives of agencies. However, many local enterprises, food vendors, entertainment personnel, and taxi drivers who are at the forefront of tourism are often left out of policy discussion. Including the local stakeholders in policy discussions and decision making will not only help gather useful information, but is prerequisite for successful and effective policy implementation [21] , [12] . More importantly inclusivity and participatory are crucial as it provides a sense of local ownership and good governance in marine resource and tourism management. Collaboration between regional and local government, and local stakeholders including capacity building programs will strengthen coastal resource governance [27] . Community-driven tourism projects that are well managed can benefit the local community as well as promoting sustainable livelihood. Matiku et al. [24] .

5.8. Enhancing public awareness

The need to instill public awareness on marine resource conservation and a sense of public ownership is fundamental in conservation. Although much effort has been invested, the government, local communities, and civil society must continue shaping the general public’s mindset into one where sustainable use of resources is key in maintaining long term wellbeing. Altering people’s attitude and behavior through education will always be a key component in achieving sustainability [5] , [12] , [13] .

6. Conclusion

The event of COVID-19 enabled this study to establish a link between tourism and marine animal sightings. With a drastic decline in the number of tourists at marine parks, there are official reports of increase marine animal sightings at many marine national parks in Southern Thailand. This linkage provides a support for exercising policy measures that are designed to lessen the tourism pressure on marine national parks and provide marine ecology adequate resting periods. This line of policy measures, whilst seeming to impose some negative impacts on tourism now, will result in a healthier marine ecosystem and a brighter tourism prospect in the future [8] . On carrying capacity, the study finds the number of tourists at Patong Beach and Maya Beach has exceeded their carrying capacities. This information calls for a more thorough examination leading to preparation of appropriate measures at these two sites.

This study recommends eight policy measures that are designed to balance tourism and marine resource conservation, as follows: conservation and recreation zoning, enforcing marine park closure, advancing marine park entrance fee systems, ensuring adequate recreational facilities, stricter enforcement of the law, promoting alternative tourism sites, encouraging more inclusivity and participation in decision making processes, and enhancing public awareness.

COVID-19 provides marine parks a resting period and enables marine animals to return to cleaner oceans with less disturbances. After COVID-19 when health containment measures subside, marine tourism should not return to its previous pattern or what may be referred to as path dependence, but assume a new path, or path creation, where tourism is better designed to coexist with healthy marine ecology and return Southern Thailand, once again, to the land of the long blue sea.

Declaration of interest


The author would like to thank the following agencies who provided secondary data and opportunities for in-depth interview: the Ministry of Tourism and Sports (DOT), the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMC), the Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP), Thai Meteorological Department (TMD) and Patong Municipality. The author appreciates the help of Associate Professor Somporn Isvilanonda of the Knowledge Network Institution of Thailand (KNIT) who helped coordinate research funding from the Thailand Research Fund (TRF), Thailand -- research grant ID number 571/2563. Last but not least, the author would like to thank the research staff of Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) who assisted with the data collection and in-depth interview: Kanjana Yasen, Thippawan Keawmesri, Prinyarat Laengcharoen, Promphat Bhumiwat and Patree Witoonchart.

1 Marine Water Quality Index (MWQI) measures water quality based on a weighted score of eight parameters: 1) dissolved oxygen, 2) coliform bacteria, 3) phosphate-phosphorus, 4) nitrate-nitrogen, 5) ammonia-nitrogen, 6) pH, 7) suspended solid, and 8) temperature. The weighted scores are then rated in five categories: very good (90−100), good (80−89), fair (50−79), poor (25−49), and very poor (0−24).

Investigating the relationship between environmental quality and tourism industry in Thailand

  • Published: 23 August 2023

Cite this article

  • Helal Uddin 1 ,
  • Sufian Ahammed 1 ,
  • Md. Masud Rana 1 &
  • Shapan Chandra Majumder   ORCID: 2  

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This research intends to look into the connection between Thailand's tourist industry and environmental quality. This study specifically examines how tourism industry and trade sector affect the environmental quality in Thailand. The objectives of the study are to assess how trade and tourism affect the environment and to provide suggestions for environment friendly travel habits. The autoregressive distributed lag model was used in the research to analyze in both the long- and short-term links between environmental quality, tourism, and trade in Thailand. The study’s statistics, which span the years from 1995 to 2021, were taken from the World Bank database. According to the study’s results, Thailand’s trade and tourism are significantly inversely correlated with environmental quality. Based on this research, both the short- and long-term effects of increased trade and tourism are a reduction in the country’s environmental quality. By presenting factual proof of the damaging effects of commerce and tourism on Thailand's ecosystem, the research adds to the body of previous material. The report also emphasizes the need for decision-makers to implement environmental protection laws and sustainable tourism practices in order to lessen the damaging effects of trade and tourism on the environment. The study’s conclusions suggest that the Thai government gives concentration in implementing environment friendly tourist practices a higher priority. To further guarantee that the detrimental effects of trade and tourism on the environment are kept to a minimum, the government should think about enacting environmental protection measures. The paper concludes by recommending more research be conducted to examine how other elements, such as technology, may affect Thailand's environmental quality.

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World Development Indicators (WDI) is the key secondary data source of this study. This study used time series data from 1995 to 2021 for Thailand.

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Reimagining travel: Thailand tourism after the COVID-19 pandemic

Thailand’s economy is reliant on international tourism, a once-flourishing sector that has been impacted by pandemic restrictions. But there have been continual government efforts to boost domestic travel, and measures to support returning international demand after Thailand began reopening to vaccinated international travelers from 63 countries on November 1, 2021. 1 Pasika Khernamnuoy and Katie Silver, “Thailand reopens to vaccinated tourists from over 60 nations,” BBC, November 1 2021, Even as the world addresses emerging variants of the virus, Thailand’s lessons can act as a guide for other tourism-dependent countries facing similar dilemmas as they prepare for the resurgence of international travel.

A heavy blow, adjustments needed to support recovery

In 2019, Thailand ranked eighth globally in international tourist arrivals, with China being a key source market. 2 United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Thailand recorded a high of 40 million visitors in 2019, with the top three spending categories for inbound visitors that year being in accommodation (28 percent), shopping (24 percent of spending), and food and beverages (21 percent). 3 “Summary of tourism income and expenses from foreign tourists entering Thailand in 2019,” Ministry of Tourism & Sports, October 28, 2020, Furthermore, the Thai tourism sector created 36 million jobs between 2014 and 2019. 4 “Dashboard SME big data,” Office of Small and Medium Enterprises Promotion, accessed October 2021,

Unfortunately, the pandemic and related restrictions have hit travel particularly hard, as international travel plunged. Passengers on international flights to Thailand dropped by 95 percent in September 2021, compared to the previous year. Hotels, in turn, only filled 9 percent of their rooms (Exhibit 1).

This decline in visitors had an outsize impact on tourism spending, as international travelers spent significantly more than their local counterparts (Exhibit 2). For instance, in 2019, international travelers made up 33 percent of overall travelers in Thailand yet accounted for almost 60 percent of all tourism spending—international tourists spent $1,543 per traveler on average, compared to $152 by domestic travelers. 5 “Tourism statistics 2019,” Ministry of Tourism & Sports, accessed October 2021, This drop in expenditure undoubtedly caused a ripple effect on Thailand’s food and beverage retail industries, which include 1.2 million small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs). 6 “How to start business,” Office of Small and Medium Enterprises Promotion, accessed October 2021,

Recovery appears to be on the horizon for Thailand. Assuming virus recurrence, slow long-term growth, muted world recovery, and minimal changes to global tourism strategies, Thailand’s tourism sector could only recover to pre-crisis levels by 2024.

Given that Thailand’s GDP relies significantly on foreign tourism income, the domestic tourism market alone is not sufficient to bring the nation’s tourism revenue back to 2019 figures; the sector’s recovery would depend on a resurgence in international travel (Exhibit 3). Globally, this recovery scenario would likely reshape the landscape of the world’s travel industry and create a strong imperative for both the public and private sectors to act to ensure the industry’s survival.

Efforts to stimulate tourism

Thailand has deployed various efforts to compensate for the loss of inbound tourism. Given that for most of the first quarter of 2020, Thailand saw less than 1,000 daily COVID-19 cases nationwide, with cases not rising above 4,000 until November 2020, domestic tourism was still a viable option for travelers. The Thai government’s attempt to boost domestic travel took the form of providing subsidies for hotel stays and flights for travelers. The government also rolled out measures to stimulate international travel to Thailand’s beach destinations and attract high-end travelers from international markets.

Travel together—stimulating domestic tourism

In August 2020, the Thai government launched the Rao Tiew Duay Gun (We Travel Together) program, where it set aside a budget of $640 million to help boost domestic tourism. 7 “Thailand approves domestic tourism package worth 22.4 billion baht,” Tourism Authority of Thailand Newsroom, June 17, 2020,

The government subsidized a total of six million nights of hotel accommodation at 40 percent of normal room rates. The subsidy was capped at 3,000 baht ($100) per night for up to five nights. Subsidies for other services, including food, were capped at 600 baht ($20) per room per night. This subsidy was initially limited to facilities outside tourists’ home provinces, but that restriction was lifted in the second phase of the rollout in December 2020. In addition, domestic tourists traveling by air would qualify for a government refund of 40 percent of the ticket price. This was capped at 1,000 baht ($32) per seat, with a quota of 2 million seats.

The program reached its total quota of six million hotel-room nights in February 2021, seven months after its launch. 8 “FPO reveals the money we travel together, 20,000 million,” Bangkok Business News , January 4, 2021,; “‘We travel together’ the parade has already reserved 6 million rights. But there are still 1.35 million rights left!” Bangkok Business News , February 8, 2021, During that time, at least $1 billion had been added to the Thai economy. 9 “NESDB-TAT has not yet knocked on ‘we travel together, phase 3,’” Thai PBS News , March 16, 2021,

Many operators grasped this opportunity, shifted their focus to the domestic market, and attracted local travelers by promoting flights and hotels in collaboration with the We Travel Together campaign. Destinations that once served mainly international visitors welcomed more local travelers, which has helped their economies wade through this difficult period. Many luxury hotels offered deep discounts and attractive promotions to capture the medium- to high-spend domestic-tourist segment.

These efforts to stimulate domestic travel were temporarily paused as COVID-19 cases reached a new high in July 2021. Domestic air travel in and out of red zones, including Bangkok, was banned during July to September 2021 in response to the nation’s effort to control the spread of the Delta variant. 10 “Domestic flight bans in force,” Bangkok Post , July 21, 2021, Phase three of the We Travel Together campaign was paused during the same period, but resumed in October 2021.

Bringing back international travelers with the ‘sandbox’ approach

Despite promotional efforts for domestic travel, Thailand’s total revenue from domestic travel still saw a significant dip. The country’s revenue from domestic travel dropped from $34.5 billion to $15.4 billion in 2020. An increase in domestic spending alone would not compensate for the impact of the pandemic on the Thai economy. The country has largely been dependent on international markets, which represented about $62 billion or 60 percent of total tourism spend in 2019. 11 “Tourism statistics 2019,” Ministry of Tourism & Sports, accessed October 2021,

In response, Thailand launched the “Phuket Sandbox” in July 2021, an effort to recapture demand from international travelers. The initiative offered fully vaccinated travelers (between 14 days and one year before their travel date) exemption from quarantine, provided they remain in Phuket for at least 14 days before traveling to other parts of Thailand. 12 “General information—Phuket Sandbox,” Tourism Authority of Thailand Newsroom, October 1, 2021, Additionally, travelers’ stay in Phuket was restricted to accommodation establishments that have been certified by the Safety & Health Administration of the Thai government. Visitors staying in Phuket for less than 14 days were permitted to leave Phuket only if their destination was outside of Thailand.

The model hoped to draw visitors during the year-end season in Asia, Europe, and America—all key origin markets for Thailand. Several other reopening plans followed, including the “Samui Plus” and “Andaman Sandbox” plans. 13 “Samui Plus plan to generate B180m,” Bangkok Post , July 18, 2021,; “‘Adaman Sandbox’ next on govt agenda,” Bangkok Post , July 21, 2021, Together, the schemes created a network of reopened destinations, which hoped to position Thailand as an attractive destination for international and domestic travelers alike.

The economic uplift from the Phuket Sandbox were moderate. In the period from July 1 to August 31, Phuket welcomed about 26,400 visitors, who were estimated to have spent at least $48.8 million while staying on the resort island (Exhibit 4). 14 “Phuket Sandbox generates B1,634m in two months,” Bangkok Post , September 5, 2021,

A nationwide rise in COVID-19 infection rates in the same period meant that the government had to reconsider social distancing and other measures to minimize risk to visitors.

In any case, Thailand has gathered its learnings from the “sandbox” approach and proceeded to reopen the country to receive international travelers. As of November 1, 2021, the Thai government commenced a phased reopening of the country, allowing fully vaccinated tourists from 63 low-risk countries to visit with one day of quarantine, provided they pass a COVID-19 test upon arrival. The government has also replaced the slow-paced Certificate of Entry (COE) system with the Thailand Pass System, in an effort to make the documentation process of travelers entering Thailand more efficient than the COE application. 15 “Thailand pass,”, accessed on November 1, 2021,

The program also expanded the number of provinces open to international visitors to 17, including major tourism destinations such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Subject to readiness, additional major provinces are expected to reopen from December 2021 onwards. To ensure visitor safety, some COVID-19 measures remain in place, although most businesses have been allowed to reopen and nighttime curfews have been lifted in almost every province. The reopening has welcomed tourists globally, with top visitors coming from Thailand’s key source markets—the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom (Exhibit 5).

Attracting ‘quality’ travelers, with an eye on new markets

Pre-COVID-19, China was one of the main contributors to Thailand’s tourism income, accounting for more than 27 percent of 2019 tourism receipts. 16 “Tourism statistics 2019,” Ministry of Tourism & Sports, accessed October 2021, Given the current prudent approach of the Chinese government toward international travel, the road of return for Chinese visitors to Thailand will be a long one. China’s international-flight seat capacity and passenger numbers remain down by 95 percent  compared to pre-COVID-19 levels, and stringent public-health measures for international travel remain in place. Thailand, therefore, needs to reimagine its strategy and try to capture new sources of international travelers in markets where there are more rapid recoveries of international travel demand.

The situation may change rapidly, particularly in these volatile times; closely monitoring the revival of these top source markets, particularly around the country’s stance towards viral control measures, will help industry players plan their recovery efforts and capture untapped value.

Recognizing these shifting traveler trends, and the resilient nature of premium traveler groups, the Thai government is striving to attract “quality” travelers from these source countries. Measures include revisiting and relaxing certain regulations—such as yachting regulations and taxes on personal belongings and luxury goods—to improve and stimulate the premium travel experience.

Taking this a step further, the Thai government is preparing to launch a long-term residence program to attract foreigners to the country through new Long-Term Resident (LTR) visas (up to ten years), tax and investment incentives, foreigners’ residential property ownership relaxations, and more. The program will target four key personas: the wealthy global citizen, the wealthy retiree, the work-from-Thailand professional, and the high-skilled professional. The country’s ambition is to welcome over one million of these target personas and generate over 1 trillion baht in domestic spending in the next five years, beginning in 2022.

Emerging from the storm: Actions for travel and tourism

Thailand has put innovative measures in place to help its vitally important travel and tourism sector wade through the COVID-19 crisis. As new variants of the coronavirus emerge, health and safety should remain the foremost priority as countries contemplate their travel programs. Once it is safe to do so, there are actions that stakeholders can take to steer into and thrive within the next normal.

Adjust offerings and pricing strategy to meet market needs. Hotels, tour operators, restaurants, and transport providers could look to explore opportunities to offer services and products that meet new travel demands.

Bundle products, such as hotel and flights, offer upselling and cross-selling opportunities as well as a diversified revenue stream.

Travel companies could also devise and deploy targeted pricing strategies to drive long-term loyalty and stickiness for when international travel fully returns. Given the phased reopening of popular provinces in Thailand, and the inclusion of more visitors from select countries on a quarantine-exemption list, travel companies can leverage data on traveler behaviors to set the right prices and conduct targeted campaigns by country of origin and destination.

Explore opportunities within the mass-affluent traveler segment. Focusing on premium travel experiences may be a viable strategy in some markets, but it may have limited impact in Thailand. Given that the top three inbound visitor-spending categories in 2019 were shopping, accommodations, and food, targeting the high-end market would only benefit a small segment of travel companies and would not contribute to the country’s economic recovery across all relevant sectors.

By promoting more differentiated travel experiences and attractions such as ecotourism and cultural tourism, which are naturally location based and sought after by younger mass-affluent travelers, operators could contribute to greater aviation and transportation use in Thailand.

Form partnerships across the travel ecosystem. As a result of the government’s We Travel Together program, which subsidizes travel through a digital redemption mechanism (the Pao Tang app), the country has seen an estimated 30 to 40 million users join and use the platform. 17 Krung Thai Bank equity research, April 2021. This has created an opportunity for domestic consumer data to be collected and analyzed to provide more personalized tourism offerings that consumers are more likely to consider spending on.

Taking this a step further, tour operators, restaurants, and shopping malls might link up, creating a connected ecosystem where a traveler could be strategically engaged through multiple personalized services, products, and loyalty programs along their journeys.

Expand the network of destinations. There is an opportunity to offer travelers a wider variety of destinations in first- and second-tier cities, such as Nakhon Si Thammarat, Chiang Rai, Nakhon Nayok, Ratchaburi, and Loei. These locations have been able to sustain visitor numbers at a relatively low rate of decline, largely due to domestic travelers looking for new places to visit during international travel restrictions.

With a boost in promotion and appropriate infrastructure investment, tourism will not only contribute to the survival of the industry in these cities, but it could also lead to enduring tourist appeal that extends beyond domestic traveler groups, especially with the gradual return of international visitors. For example, the Tourism Authority of Thailand is collaborating with airlines to offer direct flights to alternative second-tier tourism destinations.

Leverage digital to connect, attract, and retain travelers. Travel companies can digitalize the customer journey from check-in through payment, including the provision of maps and information. Traveler preferences can be tracked in real time to design better and more relevant offerings, while digital booking channels can target different customer segments. Digital marketing can also entice visitors to return and to share their experiences on social media.

For instance, the Tourism Council of Thailand is working with Singapore-based IsWhere to deploy a digital-marketing platform for tourism business operators to better connect and engage with a potentially sizeable number of domestic and international travelers; the platform’s prior partnership with a major tech company has enabled it to reach 600 million digital customers worldwide.

Reimagine support needed by industry players. In the short term, industry players would need stimulus, support, and guidance on health and safety policies from the government. In the medium term, small and medium-size players would benefit from the government’s support in adjusting to online travel services and digital marketing, such as a one-stop digital platform to connect industry players with international travelers.

As such, the Tourism Authority of Thailand announced its plan to establish a private digital firm to work on creating a digital infrastructure for tourism, utilize big data in the industry, and potentially introduce blockchain-based e-vouchers and nonfungible tokens to provide tourism operators with more options for reaching travelers online and offline.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism recovery in Thailand will be gradual and complex and requires varied strategies from both industry and government. As the world eagerly prepares for the eventual revival of international travel, Thailand and other countries can draw important lessons from its experience during this difficult interim period.

Steve Saxon is a partner in McKinsey’s Shenzhen office; Jan Sodprasert is a partner in the Bangkok office, where Voramon Sucharitakul is an associate partner.

The authors wish to thank Margaux Constantin , Kamila Dolinska, Steffen Köpke, Alan Laichareonsup, Jason Li, Georgie Songsantiphap, and Jackey Yu for their contributions to this article.

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Follow our news, recent searches, thailand seeks more chinese tourists but concerns over safety are hampering efforts, advertisement.

Thailand hopes to attract 4.4 million tourists from China by the end of this year. But with less than two months to go, it is still 1.5 million visitors short of its target.

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negative tourism impacts in thailand

Pichayada Promchertchoo

BANGKOK: When Thailand’s tourism chief revealed a plan to engage Chinese police in joint patrols at major tourist destinations, it was a sign that the Southeast Asian nation was desperate to to draw more visitors from China.

It would reflect the kingdom’s commitment to strengthen security and boost confidence among Chinese tourists, announced Ms Thapanee Kiatphaibool, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) after a meeting with Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin last Sunday (Nov 12).

The plan was swiftly scuppered  – Mr Srettha and the national police chief denied it the following day after public outcry that it would compromise Thailand’s sovereignty. 

Still, it is a clear sign that the Srettha administration knows restoring tourist confidence is pivotal. Perceived safety concerns sparked by a fatal shooting and a blockbuster crime thriller are keeping Chinese holidaymakers away, analysts say.

Slow economic recovery in China and limited flights to Thailand are also compounding matters, they pointed out, making it difficult for the Thai government to hit its tourism target this year.

Thailand hopes to draw 28 million foreign tourists, including 4.4 million from China, by the end of the year.

As of Nov 12, however, only 2.9 million Chinese tourists have visited, according to data from Thailand's Ministry of Tourism and Sports. This means the government needs to attract 1.5 million more Chinese visitors to reach its target.

“As we are entering the high season, there is a possibility but it will be hard,” Mr Paul Pruangkarn from the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) told CNA.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, China was Thailand's biggest source of international visitors, accounting for more than one in four of them. Out of 40 million foreign visitors in 2019, more than 11 million were from China.

negative tourism impacts in thailand

Thailand drops joint patrols with Chinese police after public backlash

negative tourism impacts in thailand

Thai economy likely grew in Q3 on exports, tourism boost

"it’s too unsafe".

One of the reasons they have been slow to return is the shooting  in Bangkok’s luxury Siam Paragon mall last month. A Chinese national was one of two foreigners killed by a 14-year-old gunman, who also injured several people.

The woman had entered Thailand through its  tourist visa exemption scheme  launched for Chinese passport holders on Sept 25. 

Following the shooting, the tourism ministry recorded a contraction of arrivals from China for four consecutive weeks before numbers started to pick up this month.

The immediate hit to Chinese sentiment was reflected in a poll on one of China’s largest social media platforms, Weibo, asking users if the incident would affect their travel plans to Thailand.

Over half of roughly 25,500 respondents, or about 14,400, answered: “Yes, it’s too unsafe.”

Some 3,500 others replied it would not affect their plan as such incidents do not happen often. Around 7,400 users said travelling within China is good enough, with some commenting it would be safest.

“Usually, incidents like these will have an impact that lasts two to three months, where we’ll see a drop in tourist numbers,” economist Ratasak Piriyanont from Kasikorn Securities told CNA.

Thailand’s tourism authority estimates a total income of 2.17 trillion baht (US$61 billion) from 28 million foreign visitors by December, with the visa-free incentive as an important driving force.

It also forecast the scheme would attract about 2.9 million tourists from China within five months. But  a month and a half into the programme, data from the tourism ministry showed Chinese arrivals had not even reached 500,000.

Perceived safety concerns are among the key factors that could jeopardise the recovery of the Chinese market, said Mr Pruangkarn from PATA, even as a seamless travel experience can make Thailand a more attractive destination.

Who benefits from Thailand’s new tourism schemes

  • Passport holders from China and Kazakhstan can enter and stay in Thailand for 30 days without a visa between Sep 25, 2023 and Feb 29, 2024
  • Passport holders from India and Taiwan can do the same from Nov 10, 2023 to May 10, 2024
  • Russian passport holders can enter and stay in Thailand for 90 days without a visa – instead of the normal 30-day period – from Nov 1, 2023 to Apr 30, 2024


Besides the gun attack last month, a Chinese blockbuster released in early August has also cast a shadow over Thailand’s tourism outlook, analysts said. 

The crime thriller, No More Bets, tells a story of human trafficking victims lured from China to an unnamed country, where they are locked up in a scam mill, tortured and forced to swindle people online.

Online scam operations in Southeast Asia

  • Hundreds of thousands of people from the region and beyond have been forcibly engaged in online crimes, according to the UN Human Rights Office
  • An estimated 120,000 people across Myanmar are believed to be forcibly involved in online scams, along with some 100,000 others in Cambodia
  • Victims of trafficking come from China, parts of South Asia and Southeast Asia as well as Africa
  • Thailand is increasingly a transit country for these operations

Chinese viewership for the film exceeded 90 million as of late-September, according to film data platform Beacon, while revenue was at around 3.8 billion yuan (US$525 million). 

Following the movie’s release, Thailand saw a drop in Chinese tourists. From 410,311 visitors in July, the figure dipped to 355,146 in August and 284,989 in September.

“Chinese people feel scared. They’re afraid of human trafficking and worried they wouldn’t be safe if they travel here,” said Mr Ratasak.

During his official visit to China last month, Mr Srettha had a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and emphasised his government's commitment to ensure foreign tourists' safety following the Siam Paragon shooting incident. 

The two leaders also discussed intensifying efforts to crack down on cross-border crimes such as wire fraud and online gambling.


Domestic factors have also hampered the return of Chinese tourists to Thailand. 

Analysts say sluggishness in the world’s second-largest economy has reduced people’s spending power, especially those outside big Chinese cities. China's second-quarter gross domestic product growth of 6.3 per cent on-year was below expectations. But its third-quarter growth of 4.9 per cent year-on-year exceeded forecasts.

Meanwhile, limited international flights have affected outbound travel. “The frequency of flights from China to Thailand is still below pre-COVID numbers,” explained Mr Pruangkarn.

Online flight data provider OAG reported that out of China’s top 20 international markets since 2019, Thailand is the least recovered this month.   

“Seats are still 57 per cent below 2019, despite the recent visa relaxation for Chinese visitors to Thailand,” it said on its website.

Still, market observers believe the Thai tourism sector could rebound in the near to medium term, given the right conditions and strategies.

“Thailand can boost Chinese arrivals by promoting Thailand as a safe destination that offers a variety of activities for all types of travellers, and by working with the airlines to increase flights from China,” said Mr Pruangkarn.

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Commentary: Thailand must restore confidence it is safe for residents and tourists alike

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The turquoise reflections in the beautiful white waters and sands, a wide range of accommodation and advertising campaigns are attracting millions of travelers each year to the coastline of Thailand, which is now under the threat of its own success .

"Tourism has a major impact on the country's coastline, where the main challenge is to protect the marine ecosystems," says Thun Thamerungnaawat, a professor of marine biology at Cassitsart University and a collaborator on several state-owned projects.

More than half of the 34 million foreign tourists who visited Thailand this year have traveled to the country's charming beaches, according to industry calculations.

"Visitors are mainly traveling to one of the 30 regions where tourism is concentrated," he said, such as Fiji, Riley, Phuket, Samui or Tao.

One example of the density and environmental impact cited by the expert is Koh Khai, the 40,000-square-meter main cave surrounded by the Andaman Sea, where 1.4 million people come each year, which is more than those visitting the Maldives.

The domestic industry's reliance on tourism industry has increased in recent years to 20.6 percent of GDP or 2.90 billion baht (89,100 million dollars, or 75690 million euros) in 2016, according to data from the World Tourism Council.

More than 5.7 million people - 15.1% of the active population - are working directly and indirectly in this sector, which is expected to maintain growth over the next decade.

"Even if the negative impact of tourism is clear, the sector cannot be stopped or restricted because it will affect the country's economy and thousands of workers, but they can find a way to make them more sustainable to help and at the same time maintain and develop communities," asserts the expert.

The barge shelves are fixed in the popular Mayan Bay, a scene from the movie "The Beach" (2000) starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Everyday thousands of visitors come to explore the place. Recently, the authorities announced that they would limit visits to the Gulf for four months in the low season of 2018 - between June and September - in favor of environmental recovery.

Thun commented: "It is the first step to take care of Maya. People will earn less money, but it should help the environment. After some time we will evaluate the impact.”

Another problem is the collection of plastics in the coastline of Thailand. Thun is one of the promoters of a project aimed at "gradually replacing" the plastics with biodegradable materials in half a dozen tourist islands in Andaman.

"You cannot block everything overnight, business will complain, so there is progress little by little," he says.

Thun says that social networking is a "tool" to encourage people to "raise their voices" to protect the environment and press the government to make a difference.

"We all work together, everyone does little and also demands the responsibility of big companies ... you have to work to make people think and then you can achieve a better preservation," says the professor.

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Social and Cultural Impact of Tourism Development in Thailand

Profile image of Vilas B Khandare

Tourism is a fast growing industry and a valuable sector, contributing significantly to the

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American Journal of Tourism Management

p-ISSN: 2326-0637    e-ISSN: 2326-0645

2013;  2(2): 29-35


Thai Interpretation of Socio-cultural Impacts of Tourism Development in Beach Resort

Somruthai Soontayatron

Faculty of Sports Science, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, 10330, Thailand

Copyright © 2012 Scientific & Academic Publishing. All Rights Reserved.

Buddhism has played an important role in Thai culture and influence on Thais’ thought. The main principle of Thai Buddhism is to maintain harmony in people’s minds and between people in the society. Consequently, avoidance of conflict and social confrontation of Thai people becomes a significant value. Social exchange theory is supported by plenty of research evidences that suggest the exchange system is useful for the evaluation of tourism impacts but nobody takes cultural background of host residents in to an account in term of the application. Koh Samui Island, a famous seaside resort town situated in the Southern coast of Thailand, was set as a case study of this research. A constructivist paradigm with semi-structured interviews was adopted. This study explores an overview of Thai culture which is necessary to interpret the residents’ social construction of the socio-cultural impacts of tourism development and allows the focus to move away from a purely Western socio-cultural interpretation leading to a better understanding of resident responses to the impacts of tourism in a Thai context.

Keywords: Thai Interpretation, Social Exchange Theory, Socio-cultural Impacts, Tourism Development

Cite this paper: Somruthai Soontayatron, Thai Interpretation of Socio-cultural Impacts of Tourism Development in Beach Resort, American Journal of Tourism Management , Vol. 2 No. 2, 2013, pp. 29-35. doi: 10.5923/j.tourism.20130202.01.

Article Outline

1. introduction, 2. thai culture, 2.1. core fundamental, 2.2. behind the thai smile, 2.3. avoidance of confrontation, 3. social exchange theory, 4. methodology, 5. analysis of findings, 5.1. embedded avoidance of confrontation in thai society, 5.2. the implication of social exchange theory to thai culture, 6. conclusions.


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