Wednesday, 6 June 2018

THAILAND: Crowded Maya Bay Closed To Tourists For Rejuvenation Because Of Overtourism, New Phuket Airport For 10m More Tourists

News of a second airport in the Thai hot spot might be welcomed by tourists.

However, environmentalists and overwrought destinations are likely to be less than enthusiastic.

Thailand’s Maya Bay, the beach made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio, officially closed to tourists for four months on June 1, becoming the latest addition to a growing list of destinations that have become victims of their own appeal.

Others include Boracay, in the Philippines, which is almost six weeks into its six-month hiatus, and Koh Tachai, another Thai island, which stopped receiving visitors in May 2016, although it has since reopened.

How, then, do officials in Thailand hope to combat the problem of overtourism led by a sharp increase in the number of Chinese travellers?

By investing in infrastructure to facilitate yet more arrivals, of course.

Airports of Thailand, which became the world’s most valuable airport services company earlier this year, recently approved second airports for Chiang Mai and Phuket.

With a combined budget of 120 billion baht (US$3.7 billion), construction on both is expected to begin next year, with completion slated for no later than 2025.

Any one of the 3.5 million passengers who passed through immigration at Phuket International Airport in the first four months of this year might welcome the news.

That figure represented a not insignificant 19 per cent rise on the same period in 2017, according to a report by hospitality consulting firm C9 Hotelworks.

But Phi Phi Leh, home to Maya Bay, Koh Racha Yai and Koh Khai Nok – all favourite destinations for Chinese tour groups and individuals from Phuket – may be less accommodating to an additional 10 million visitors a year.

The economic rewards for such investments are obvious, the tourism industry accounted for 9.2 per cent of Thailand’s GDP in 2016, a contribution that is expected to grow to 14.3 per cent by 2027, as detailed in a report by the World Travel & Tourism Council.

However, even high-ranking officials have expressed concerns over the country’s aggressive approach to tourism.

Science and technology minister Suvit Maesincee said: Our strategy was more for less, not less for more, so we invited a lot of tourists from China. I think in the near future we need to change from volume to value.

We are trying to push for CBT - community-based tourism to disperse tourists away from popular sites beyond Bangkok, Chiang Mai or the beaches to promote the unseen Thailand, said Jiraporn Prommaha from the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, speaking to travel industry publication TTG Asia.
Building additional airports at two of the country’s most popular entry points might not seem an obvious strategy for the dispersal of tourists, but who are we to judge!

Thailand's Maya Bay is taking a break from tourists.

Starting this month, the world-famous tourist destination, part of the Phi Phi Islands in the Andaman Sea, will be closed for a much needed but unpredicted rejuvenation.

Thai authorities are giving the short strip of sand on the island of Ko Phi Phi a chance to recover from the strain of thousands of daily visitors.

Environmentalists say years of increasing tourism has caused damage to Maya Bay and its surroundings.

We are a beautiful country but we have to protect our natural resources, says Thon Thamrongnawasawat, an advisor to Thailand's national parks department.

We have significant information that all the boats that come in and out really impact the coral reef.

We won't close it to tourism forever but have to do something to save our sea, and we have to start at Maya Bay.

Even if you've never seen the 1998 film with Leonardo DiCaprio, Maya Bay has become a bucket list destination for travellers, gap year students and holiday makers.

Thailand has increased in popularity too with 467,000 visits by UK tourists in 2016.

Most of those who visit Maya Bay only stay for a couple of hours. They have a paddle, a stroll and a selfie - but it's not quite the paradise they'd imagined.

A tourist from Cologne thinks what you see and what you get are very different.

The beach in the film is very relaxing, there are no people to be seen, and you get this idea of a very lonely place in the middle of nowhere.

Then you come here and you think you're in Times Square in New York with lots of people or Tourists.

The beach is stunning but definitely not relaxing.

There's the constant sound of the speedboat engines, their propellers churn up the water and it's hard to get a patch of the sand to yourself.

The area is generally clean but there are still some pockets of litter which tourists leave behind.

Tourism is one of Thailand's biggest sources of income so Maya Bay is being shut during the relatively low season, until 30 September.

Its Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation issued a notice saying it realised the deterioration of the ecosystem in the area of Maya Bay.

When it reopens later this year, it's thought the number of people allowed to visit the beach will be reduced.

It is hectic though beautiful.

I didn't realise how busy the beach would be but shutting it temporarily is a great idea. It's crazy how many boats there are. I'm just glad I got to see it said a tourist at Maya Bay

Tourism Observer

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