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Thailand – tourism or bust

March 14, 2014
Protecting the temple

Protecting the temple

I just finished viewing a friends photos of their sojourn

Sierd and Elsbite enjoying the sunset Thai style Photo by S. Hortsing

Sierd and Elsbie enjoying the sunset Thai style
Photo by S. Hortsing

with us sailing the west coast of Phuket. Makes me think twice about this blog I was contemplating.

Tourism – is it the scourge of modern-day life?

We all want to get away for a break from our day-to-day existences. However, what does it mean to those areas in which tourism is almost the sole source of income and raison d’etre?

I come from a tourist town – Victoria, BC.  I have worked in tourism for many years.  I grew up in a family that sold and conducted European tours for youth from the early 50s through to the 70s.  I have travelled extensively to many different areas of the world.  I love travelling.  However, I can’t ignore the impacts of my actions and sometimes question the impact I am contributing to as a tourist.

Modern modes of transportation and cheap flights are rapidly changing accessibility to more remote locations and virtually nowhere is immune to the impact of travellers.  Planes fly in dropping off hundreds of tourists at a a time. Cruise ships bring in thousands of visitors at the same time.

A good example is Victoria B.C. where as many as four cruise ships can stop at one time. Virtually none stay overnight – they don’t want to incur berthing fees for overnight stays.  As many 10,000 people descend on the downtown area at the same time. It has changed Victoria’s tourism trade.  Where people used to come by boat, plane, car, bus, ferry etc many now come by cruise ship.  When the ships disgorge passengers the downtown becomes a carnival – acrobats, street artists, hawkers, food stalls, street sellers flood the pavement.  The city  hums for about 4 hours and then suddenly it dies.  The passengers are back on their ships shortly to leave for the next destination.

Phuket is another example of tourism on steroids. As much as I love Phuket I can at times hate it.  It is full bore tourism that goes on all year with anincrease in the winter season from Christmas to Easter time.  Everyone is chasing the tourist dollars as it’s the main economic driver in town.

Both Phuket  (pop: 500,000) and Victoria (pop: 385,000) are not large.  but both rely on tourism. Victoria hosts some 3,000,000 visitors/year and Phuket 5,000,000/year.  Phuket is a small island comprising 543 square kms compared to Vancouver Islands  32,000 square kms .  Phuket is quite hilly with residents and tourists crammed in along the coastline on both east and west sides to take advantage of the proximity to the beaches and services.

No it's not a clown but just another tourist

No it’s not a clown but just another tourist

Unlike Victoria Phuket’s roads are crammed with vehicles.  In Phuket there is no fresh drinking water available and in many cases there isn’t even running water accessible for the homes of residents.  There isn’t adequate sanitation resulting in places like Patong, at the really busy Christmas season smelling like the local sewage treatment plant except it’s the ocean providing that service.  

Despite all the negatives it is a beautiful place.  It has some of the most gorgeous beaches in SE Asia.  It has world renown Thai cuisine available everywhere. It’s relatively inexpensive and on top of that anchorages for visiting yachts abound.  The whole west coast is one bay after another each distinct in its character, charm and safe during the NE monsoon period.

“So what”, you may ask. I don’t know the answer about how best to manage tourism but unrestricted access is ruining some places.  In the rush to enjoy the natural beauty we are destroying that we have come to visit.  I believe unrestricted access is not the answer but neither is making it financially inaccessible the answer.  With some places contemplating the building of hotels to accommodate 15,000 people on islands where there are only 2,000 inhabitants it won’t take long for it to look like the downtown of some major city.

We are soon to experience a burgeoning tourist population from China.  Finally, with a little money to spend, the Chinese are starting to travel. Who can blame them?  But are we ready for the influx.  It’s the next big tourist market.  They will be travelling in very large numbers and the impact will be huge.

Okay, this is just some thoughts as I go off to visit another beautiful island but I am not going to tell you where it is or how I got there. And once my camera is fixed I will post some pictures and then you can pass the information off to another million people on your networks!

Is Buddha popping out moons?

Is Buddha popping out moons?

Interesting related link on the same subject

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/20/tourism-overwhelms-historic-places-venice-cruise-liners

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Dina permalink
    March 14, 2014 21:08

    Great post, very apropos for all us travelling and trying to find peaceful places. This is my theory: there are tons and tons of places to go in the world, where nobody goes. They don’t have the standard issue tourist attractions, and they may not be online, but they are there, and they have infrastructure to deal with a few visitors. And they are peaceful and interesting. Or perhaps I’m lulled into believing this, having found our own little quiet corner of Thailand! Only thing missing is a beach…
    Hugs to you & Connie, from Dina

    • March 14, 2014 21:39

      Yes there are tons of places where no-one goes and I’m not telling you about them! No, I think, depending on what they provide, they will be discovered by more people and then what. How do we protect them from the invasion? Or do they want protection? If they do then it’s important to start now to figure out how to balance what you have yet share it with others.

  2. Bob Townsend permalink
    March 15, 2014 06:34

    I love your blogs – keep on sending them. I like reading your views on tourism, as my background has tourism in it too, Victoria now, and Banff previously. In your blogs, best of all, I love receiving them. I can stay away from some of the tourist centres though the blogs. They almost make me feel that I have been there, and I do not add yet another tourist to the crowded streets of Phuket.
    Greetings to Connie, too.
    Bob.

  3. Wayne Holt permalink
    March 15, 2014 10:58

    I’ve worked with and been a personal friend ofTony for years. He introduced me to many aspects of tourism and offered guidance along the way. He is a genuine caring man and boy oh boy can he ever tell a story!
    Here’s the thing; for all that’s been said, global tourism is just getting revved up and we ain’t seen nothing yet. Scary in many ways but like everything else, it will resolve itself. Hopefully to the betterment of us all.

  4. March 16, 2014 05:25

    Tony:
    Part of solving as problem is recognizing it and…knowing when we are part of it. I have the same thoughts and I find it unsettling that the most of the locals where we travel cannot conceive of taking a vacation themselves. You and I both come from a paradise that millions visit yearly and yet we can’t wait to see what’s around the next corner instead of absorbing all we clearly have at home.

    I will always remember being in Southern China as part of a trade delegation. One of my colleagues complained incessantly that all these Chinese folks ate nothing but “Gook food.”
    His missionary approach to everything became an incredible embarrassment.
    It’s astounding how we bring our world with us when we go to see something different.
    So, the only way of dealing with our imposed travesties is to share our enlightenment with fellow travellers and hope that awareness helps us all appreciate what we are seeing and hopefully absorbing.

    Once I sat in a pub Durham England admiring the incredible medieval scene on a beautiful winter Sunday. Then I noticed the Pizza Hut sign swinging in the wind. Wanting to stay positive I decided it was awfully nice of the Americans to provide so many public washrooms across the world. “We do it all for you!”

    Namaste, Fred

    • Wayne Holt permalink
      March 16, 2014 12:13

      Well said Fred. Excellent!

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