Thailand has been fortunate to benefit from exponential tourist growth. Visitors entering the country have doubled each successive decade since the 70s and now numbers more than 15 million people every year. This is a huge benefit to the Thai economy, bringing in more than $15 billion a year.
Tourism on the Andaman Coast
It is no surprise that ecotourism on the Andaman coast has been on the rise in recent years. Phuket still remains the runaway leader in the region. However, increasing numbers of visitors are looking further afield for a more enjoyable holiday experience in a less developed area.
These are people who love Thailand, who feel that places like Phuket and Koh Samui have gone too far. Brimming over with 7-11s, McDonalds and Starbucks these destinations lose the underlying culture that once made them so charming. Often the arrival of these chains marks the beginning of the end of the area as many of the distinctive Thai cultural traits get lost in a sea of homogeneity.
Ecotourism - an oxymoron?
It does not take a huge stretch of the imagination to wonder whether tourism is ever sustainable. Is the tourist footprint ever a good one?
As visitors look beyond Phuket into Phang Nga we see signs that Thailand must be careful of the long term impact of mass tourism. The temptation to cash in on the tourist boom is all too evident as legions of multinational resorts push through Khao Lak towards our beloved Koh Phra Thong.
So many areas have been irreparably damaged in this way. The bulldozers and pollution slowly destroy the natural habitats. Obviously, the scenery is a prime reason why the tourists come. So with the nature on the wane, the motivation to come is removed and the next wave of tourists never arrive. This remains the irony of ecotourism.
Hope for Koh Phra Thong?
The encroachment of mass tourism has yet to reach our shores, but it is not far away. Koh Kho Khao to the south is becoming increasingly popular whilst Koh Phayam to the north is widely recognised as a trendy travellers hotspot. Koh Phra Thong is next on the radar.
Thankfully, we have a community of operators on Koh Phra Thong with an understanding of the pressures of mass tourism. Between us we hope to have the integrity and influence to guide the island to develop in a more sustainable way.