When we think of a tropical paradise in South East Asia, Thailand is the first destination that comes to mind. Millions of tourists flock over to the Land of Smiles each year allowing the country to enjoy unprecedented economic growth. Employing tourism as an engine of growth, Thailand’s industries that are directly or indirectly involved in tourist are blooming. The surge in the tourism industry, however, does not come without a cost. Tourism unchecked exists as a double-edge sword. While tourism is beneficial, we are seeing the environment facing rapid degradation.
Pollution and the destruction of the environment are amongst Thailand’s most pressing problems. With 27 million tonnes of rubbish produced in 2016 alone and the lack of proper infrastructure for disposal, trash is affecting all aspects of the environment. Coupled with unchecked business and tourist practices, high levels of pollution have been recorded in tourist hotspots. These include Pattaya city, Bangkok and Phuket. Beaches that were once famous for their crystal clear waters are now murky and biodiversity rapidly depleting.
How are the different stakeholders involved in environmental degradation?
In an effort to increase profits, businesses are not managing the impacts of tourism. They engage in detrimental practices such as dredging coral reefs with anchors and disposing waste directly from hotels and restaurants into the sea. They could also simply not care enough to reduce the use of plastics that are improperly handled yearly. The environment is being placed under extreme stress to cater to the masses and its problems are a response to unsustainable tourism. With 72 percent of coral reefs in Thailand devastated because the reasons above, Thailand is putting its natural environment in danger. Furthermore, tourism will be affected in the long run. After all, the appeal of a tropical paradise does lie in being able to soak up the sun on pristine beaches with crystal clear waters.
However, it is unfair to solely blame businesses for bad practices. Tourists have to take some responsibility for their part in environmental degradation. Holiday goers assume that it is their privilege to have indifferent attitudes and be irresponsible. Hence, they do not think about the impact of their actions. They also tend to consume large amounts of resources when in a temporary location. Hence, natural resources are over-consumed during peak seasons.
What can we do as tourists?
While we do not have the power to curb business practices in another country, we can play our part in evoking change.
The way a tourist views a country does have a lasting impact. If views are taking a turn for the worse, relevant authorities would intervene. Key stakeholders within the country will be held more accountable for their decisions to ensure that tourism remains sustainable while catering to a growing demographic.
Stay informed. Before going on a holiday, do your research and be more picky about the activities you choose to participate in. Actively choose sustainable business practices and keep asking questions about the nature of tourist activities. Are these elephants treated right? Does my tour operator engage in eco-conscious activities? Be more perceptive of your choices and the impact of tourism on the natural environment that you set foot in. Being equipped with awareness allows you to be accountable for what you choose to do or not do.
Choose plastic-free options. While some destinations have already stepped up to do away with single-use plastic, others have not. When you choose to abandon single-use plastic in your host country, you are playing a significant part in taking responsibility for the future of this Earth.
Let us redefine what it means to be a tourist today! With a growing number of people globetrotting, it is crucial that we take care of the places we go to. After all, the way we treat our Earth affects the opportunities that future generations will get to witness the enamouring beauty of Mother Nature and the environment that they will grow up in.