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    • Mint Achanaiyakul TSEA P1 - Mr. Sheridan 19 May, 2011 Sustainable Tourism: Salvaging Thailand’s Tourism Industry Imagine that you are a tourist who has come to Thailand for a holiday. What you expect to see is what has been depicted in advertisements that you have seen promoting the country as an alluring destination for vacationers: beautiful, golden beaches that scintillate in the warm, tropical sunshine and crystal-clear seas that teem with exotic, vibrant marine life. Instead, when you arrive you find that the coastlines have receded and what little is left of them are littered with trash, that the seas are a disgustingly dirty brown color, and that the exquisite fish and corals are dead. This is exactly what has happened to most of the beaches in Thailand. Tourism in Thailand supposedly began when US soldiers and veterans came to seek respiteduring the Vietnam War. In 1960, less than 100,000 tourists were coming to Thailand. However, whenThailand became a rest and recreation site for U.S. soldiers, prostitution in Thailand experienced amomentous increase in customers and tourism also flourished during this time (Lowe). “From 1980-1987, the number of visitors increased by more than 10 per cent a year, reaching 3.48 million in 1987”(Lowe). The prostitution business is not the only thing that appeals to tourists. Thailand is also famousfor its historical sites and other attractive sites such as waterfalls and natural forests. And this is whyso many people come to Thailand. However, the tourism industry of Thailand is the root cause ofmany detrimental effects within the country. It has harmed the environment and is the source of thecountry’s infamy. Furthermore, it is not a dependable contributor to the economy. The impacts oftourism are affecting the country’s popularity and worsening the situation of its people. If noimmediate, significant action is done to prevent the harmful impacts then the country may be in direstraits. Therefore, it is imperative that the government takes more measures towards preventingtourism’s negative economic, social, and environmental effects. Advocates of the tourism industry state that it generates large revenues to support theeconomy in many parts of Thailand. And the industry does, in fact, contribute a large part to 1
    • Mint Achanaiyakul TSEA P1 - Mr. Sheridan 19 May, 2011Thailand’s GDP. According to the South East Asia Tourism Monitor, the tourism industry accountsfor 6% of the GDP (gross domestic product) of the country (“Thailand’s ‘Redshirts’…”). Agriculture,which is another main contributor to the Thailand’s economy, accounts for 10% of the country’s GDP.However, almost 50% of the population is employed within this sector (Kisner). (This is because themajority of the 65 million people who live in Thailand live in rural areas.) As you can see, the tourismindustry accounts for quite a high percentage of the GDP despite not employing as much people asdoes the agricultural industry. Also, the amount of money that the tourism industry supplies for theeconomy is very immense and Thailand relies on this money to maintain its financial system. In thisyear alone, revenue from tourism is estimated to be about 622-640 billion baht (Chinmaneevong). Thisis because many tourists come to Thailand, causing businesses to flourish. During the SongkranFestival, Surapol Svetasreni, the TAT governor, stated that the average occupancy rate of hotels wasover 60% across the nation with about 3 million tourists generating an income of over 8 billion bahtfor these hotels (Chinmaneevong). Another positive aspect of tourism in Thailand is that there aremany destinations in different parts of the country that are all generating income. In 2010, manypeople stopped flying to Bangkok because of the political unrest that was happening there, but othertourist hotspots, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in the north and the islands of Phuket and Koh Samui inthe south, were not affected by the demonstrations (Wohlfahrt). Nevertheless, Thailand’s economy is dependent on the tourism industry, which is in turnreliant on the stability of the country, and therefore easily affected. Last year, there were manypolitical demonstrations carried out by anti-government protesters called “Redshirts”. These protestshappened in downtown Bangkok and caused the death and injuries of many Thais as well as a fewforeigners, including a Japanese reporter. Because of this, tourists were cautioned against traveling toThailand. In fact, approximately forty countries had warned its citizens from traveling to Bangkok anda hundred flights due from China were cancelled due to the political unrest (Wohlfahrt). This severelyhurt the tourism sector because fewer tourists meant less income for the country. As a result of fewertourists coming into Thailand, the businesses of bars and clubs in the popular, and usually very busy,Silom-Patpong area of Thailand experienced a drastic drop in income because fewer customers - most 2
    • Mint Achanaiyakul TSEA P1 - Mr. Sheridan 19 May, 2011of the businesses cater to expatriates - were using their services. A manager of a restaurant and pub inSilom, Mr. Thammavaraporn, had said that during the violence, he had lost more than fifty percent ofhis typical income (“Thailand’s ‘Redshirts’…”). Hotels, which usually thrive because of internationalcustomers, as well, were also hurt. “Several hotels in Bangkok [ran] at roughly 30% occupancy, whichis about half their normal rate, while luxury hotels, like the Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel or the FourSeason, [had] zero occupancy” (Wohlfahrt). The blemish that the protests left on Thailand’s image didprevent tourists coming to the country for a while, but soon after this conflict was solved - some thinkthat the heart of the matter is not truly resolved - and the violent outbursts were put to an end, thecountry was soon receiving the same number of visitors that it usually did. Evidently, however, thetourism industry cannot be relied on as a stable source of income because it hinges on the image of thecountry, which can be marred very suddenly and easily by incidents such as the demonstrations thathappened in 2010. Thus, the country is always at risk of losing visitors that contribute to its economy. An additional positive aspect of the tourism industry, the Thai government claims, is that thetourism industry provides employment for many people within the country. Because there are manydifferent occupations that are related to tourism, the tourism industry is able to employ a lot of people.According to the TAT, the Tourism Authority of Thailand, approximately 1.8 million people work inthe tourism industry (“Thailand’s ‘Redshirts’…”). This is quite a large portion of the Thai population,which consists of about 65 million people. The large numbers of tourists that come to Thailand alsocause the demand for employees in the industry to continually increase. In 2008, the country receivedabout 15 million international tourists (Thitthongkam and Walsh). Because a large number of touristscome to Thailand each year, there is a high demand for people to work in the tourism industry. This iswhy over ninety public and private universities currently offer tourism education. Public universitiesinclude Chiang Mai University, Kasetsart University, and Mahidol University, while privateinstitutions include Assumption University, Bangkok University, and Dhurakij Pundit University(Thitthongkam and Walsh). And in these educational institutes, various programs have beendeveloped for students intending to become employed in the many different areas of the tourismindustry. Areas of specialization include hotel services, hospitality services and tourism management 3
    • Mint Achanaiyakul TSEA P1 - Mr. Sheridan 19 May, 2011(Thitthongkam and Walsh). Due to the need of employees in the tourism industry, the students thatmajor in tourism-related fields can be confident that they will be able to find jobs after graduation. Even though advocates state that the tourism industry provides employment, the reality is thatmany come to Thailand for the purpose of sex tourism and child molestation. Thailand is famous forits red-light districts that provide for foreigners. These include the scandalous Silom and Patpongroads. In Bangkok, about 36,000 go-go bars, massage parlors and nightclubs cater exclusively to sextourists (Smith). The bars and clubs are especially popular among sex tourists because of the slackjustice system in Thailand: prostitution is illegal but many prostitutes sit in these bars looking toseduce male foreigners during the nighttime and sometimes even during the day. Therefore, it is nosurprise that when most people think of Thailand, they will often think of prostitutes in bars. A Britishman, Brian Rudik told a reporter of the Guardian newspaper that the only reason that he came toThailand and the only reason that keeps him here is the go-go bars and the Thai women (Smith).Thailand’s image is clearly sullied because it is notorious for its places of debauchery. However, notonly is Thailand the first choice for sex tourists, it is also a paradise for pedophiles. “Last year, 2,888people were charged with having sex with children under 15 in Thailand. Thailand has become thedestination of choice for sex tourists looking to prey on children” (Rivers). This is a very shockingfigure. In Chiang Mai, there is even unit of officers dedicated to tracking down pedophiles becausethere are so many cases related to pedophilia that occur in the province. In fact, there are so many ofthem that the officers of this unit are unable to keep track of them all. Police Lt. Col. ApichartHattasin, who is a part of this unit, says that there are many people who talk of Thailand being aheaven for pedophiles because of the lenient criminal justice system (Rivers). An example of a manarrested for interfering with children is Karl Kraus, a 90-year old pedophile, who was accused ofmolesting girls, one of which was as young as seven years old (Rivers). Another case is CornelWietlisbach, a Swiss banker who was charged with abusing young boys in Chiang Mai. After pleadingguilty, Wietlisbach was only sent back to his home country and fined 4,000 baht (or 125 dollars) as apunishment (Rivers). The severity of the punishment plainly does not correspond to the magnitude of 4
    • Mint Achanaiyakul TSEA P1 - Mr. Sheridan 19 May, 2011the crime. This demonstrates that the criminal justice system is clearly inefficient and this is one of themain reasons why sexual degenerates come to Thailand. Another negative effect of the tourism industry is that it is destroying attractive landscapesites. Three main impacts of the industry on the environment are deforestation, coastal erosion andcoral bleaching. Many trees are cut down to make space for the construction of touristaccommodations. Recently, the Highways Department engineers chopped down approximately 130trees along the road to Khao Yao National Park, a World Heritage site, despite being authorized to fellonly twenty. The people who were behind this decision argued this was done for the purpose ofmaking room for the traffic coming to the park on weekends. However, it is quite clear that it will bethe hotels and the playgrounds near the park that will benefit and not the park itself (“Thailand:Old…”). Trees are very important as they play a crucial part of every ecosystem and many of thesetrees are being cut down with the motivation to increase the capacity of tourists able to come to thepark. Furthermore, the shorelines of many beaches are receding because of tourists and tourism. In1952, Pattaya Beach covered almost 100,000 square meters and the distance to the shoreline wasalmost 40 meters. However, by the year 2002, the area of the beach had been reduced to only about50,000 square meters, and the distance to the shoreline to a bit less than 19 meters (“Thailand: Pattaya…”). The causes of erosion are the constructions of buildings near the coastline combined with theexcavation of soil for these constructions. Structures built to counteract the erosion have beeninvestigated and are shown to only exacerbate the problem (“Thailand: Pattaya …”). Coastal erosion isalso not only occurring in Pattaya but it “is a serious problem nationwide, with the country’s 2,666kmshoreline suffering erosion at different levels, many critically” (“Thailand: Pattaya …”). If thecoastlines of Thai beaches are being eroded at this rate, then, very soon, whole beaches will disappearand this will affect the number of visitors coming to Thailand. Not only is coastal erosion occurring atbeaches, but the marine life is also being affected. Coral bleaching is happening because of thecarelessness of tourists who come into contact with the corals and raise sand from the seabed ("CoralReefs…”). A major cause of coral bleaching is land sediment. Land sediment is a big problem, Mr.Plathong, a researcher of coral reefs, says. It is being washed into the sea because of the constructions 5
    • Mint Achanaiyakul TSEA P1 - Mr. Sheridan 19 May, 2011of resorts and hotels occurring along the coast. This has gravely harmed coral reefs, which act ashabitats for fish (“Coral Reefs…”). The issue of coral bleaching will, if it has not already, not onlyhurt tourism and diving businesses, but also prove to be very detrimental towards the fish species thatlive in coral, causing them to die out. As you can see, tourism in Thailand is very unsustainable: it is the cause of many economical,social and environmental damages. While it is true that the tourism sector gives rise to a substantialamount of income for the country, it is not a very stable source of income because the industry iscontingent on the country’s reputation. As shown by the political unrest in 2010, the tourism industryis very vulnerable and any events that mar Thailand’s image may lead to tourists ceasing to visit.Furthermore, many are of the opinion that the tourism business is good for Thai society because itcreates employment and many universities offer tourism as a field of study because of the highdemand for workers in the industry. On the contrary, it can also be detrimental to society becausemany tourists come to Thailand for sex tourism. And not only is Thailand infamous for its bars andnightclubs in Soi Cowboy, Patpong, or other prostitution areas, it also attracts pedophiles from othercountries because the justice system lets child abusers get away very easily and punishments are notsevere. Tourism has also caused, and is continuing to cause, drastic impacts on the environment ofmany of the popular tourist locations: near Khao Yai Park, trees have been cut down to produce morespace for tourists; Pattaya beach has been significantly damaged due to coastal erosion; coralbleaching has occurred in many diving sites within Thailand. Unless the Thai government gives rise tosustainable tourism and ensures that tourism in Thailand creates a rewarding experience for visitors,Thai citizens and the tourism companies, the business of tourism, which contributes significantly tothe economy, could collapse. 6
    • Mint Achanaiyakul TSEA P1 - Mr. Sheridan 19 May, 2011 Works CitedChinmaneevong, Chadamas. Tourism Body Cuts Arrival Estimate. BangkokPost.com. Bangkok Post, 20 Apr. 2011. Web. 22 Apr. 2011."Coral Reefs Ruined - Sites to Be Closed." South Easy Asia Tourism Monitor. Vol. 2, No.1. Jan. - Feb. 2011. Print.Kisner, Corinne. Climate Change in Thailand: Impacts and Adaptation Strategies. Climate.org. Climate Institute, Jul. 2008. Web. 17 May 2011.Lowe, Felix. Thai Tourism. Guardian.co.uk. The Guardian, 15 Jan. 2006. Web. 13 May 2011.Rivers, Dan. Thailand Fights to Stem Tide of Child Sex Tourists. CNN.co.uk. CNN, 5 Jul. 2010. Web. 11 May 2011.Smith, David. One Night in Bangkok… But it Ends at Midnight. Guardian.co.uk. The Guardian, 1 Feb. 2004. Web. 11 May 2011."Thailand: Old Trees Lost to Tourism." South East Asia Tourism Monitor. Vol. 1, No. 3. May - Jun. 2010. Print."Thailand: Pattaya Beach Erosion ‘Critical’." South East Asia Tourism Monitor. Vol. 2, No. 1. Jan. - Feb. 2011. Print."Thailand’s ‘Redshirts’ Spoil Parties." South East Asia Tourism Monitor. Vol. 1, No. 3. May - Jun. 2010. Print.Thitthongkam, Thavorn, and John Walsh. "Tourism Education at the Tertiary Level and Competitive Advantage." Journal of Education and Vocational Research. Vol. 1, No. 1. Apr. 2011. Web. 4 May 2011.Wohlfahrt, Wiebke. Thailand: Facing Losses in Tourism Business. TourismReview.com. Tourism Review, 26 Apr. 2010. Web. 1 May 2011. 7