The tourist trade has well and truly taken over Thailand and it doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of slowing down. Maya Bay rapidly increased in popularity following Danny Boyle’s adaptation of Alex Garland’s novel The Beach which was released back in 2000. This famous beach set off the coast of Kho Phi Phi Leh sometimes sees as many as 5000 visitors descending by tourist boats per day.
Overcrowding at Maya Bay Beach, Thailand
The influx of visitors, widely thought to be due to Chinese tour operators organising more cut-price trips in recent years, is having a devastating effect on the country’s wildlife. Motor boats and their anchors are significantly damaging the local reef and it has been reported that 72% of this beautiful natural wonder is under threat.
Two new airports currently being built
Despite the adverse effect the tourist industry is having on this beautiful country, authorities are still keen to encourage visitors and profits, so it comes as no surprise that, despite the closure of the beach until September due to over-tourism, two new airports have been approved for construction in the area. One in Chiang Mai and one in Phuket, both popular tourist destinations that already have airports, these travel hubs will serve an extra ten million travellers.
According to the Airports of Thailand president, Nitinai Sirismatthakarn, the airports will cost 60 billion Thai Bart and are due to start building work in 2019 and be nearing completion by 2025. Despite such a big investment in the airports, there have been reports that there is just not the infrastructure to support the influx of even more visitors. Visits from Asia alone increased by 32% in April and Chinese visitors accounted for 42% of visitors in 2017. But the overcrowding and commercialisation of Thailand seem to have put British tourists off with visitor numbers from the UK decreasing by 13% last year.
If you’re still keen to discover Asia and have been put off by the over-population of Thailand, fear not, there are alternatives. If you’re looking for rival beaches to Thailand’s Koh Samui and some exclusivity try Langkawi in Malaysia. The hotels here are luxury hideaways on sandy beaches and close to thick mangrove forests. For some adventure you can trek into the forests to see famous brown eagles, caves and stunning waterfalls. The Philippines is another great alternative to Thailand with perfectly formed beaches with turquoise waters and friendly locals. The country is known for diving and English is one of the official languages so it’s easy to be understood everywhere you go.
Langkawi beach in Malaysia
How to become a responsible tourist
Is there anything we can do as responsible travellers to tackle over-tourism? The abundance of low-cost flights and giant cruise liners docking in more destinations across the world has meant an increase in not only damage to surrounding areas, but over-crowding and disdain from the locals too. Currently, there are around two billion tourist arrivals per year – a figure which is growing at a steady six percent.
Being a responsible tourist means creating better places for people to live and to visit with an emphasis on ‘to live’. You should be travelling in a way that maximises the positive impacts of tourism. For example, Barcelona is very overcrowded, but Spain is a big country. Why not discover some of the smaller villages in the mountains? You’ll have a much more genuine insight to Spanish life and you’ll be bringing tourist money into those places that need it most.
If you must visit the most popular places in the globe, including Thailand’s beaches, perhaps going it in off-peak season. You’ll be putting less pressure on local infrastructure, giving an influx of money in the quieter periods of the year and you might even bag yourself a bargain holiday too.
Support local infrastructure and use public transport, think bus rather than Uber. Stay in sustainability-focused accommodation – many Airbnb owners, hotels and hostels collect rainwater and recycle water and do not use single-use plastic.
With 195 countries across the world to explore why not try a new undiscovered destination and give the overpopulated spots a break? Think Robinson Crusoe and conquer a new land.