The country has always attracted many tourists over the years, from wandering backpackers in their gap year to large groups of tourists who care little about the environment.
Thailand is now looking to end its hedonistic history of mass tourism. Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn stated that the focus should shift from mass tourism to high-end travelers and not large numbers of tourists.
Although international tourists were kept away by lockdowns, the region was slowly recovering from years of excessive tourism.
Before the pandemic, Phi Phi National Park was home to more than 2,000,000 visitors each year. 6,000 people made the trip daily to the Maya Bay. The region’s fragile ecosystem was left in chaos by uncontrolled mass tourist.
Thon Thamrongnawasawat, Kasetsart University in Bangkok, tells AFP that coral cover has declined by more than 60% in just over ten years.
Thon was forced by authorities to close a portion of Maya Bay in 2018 after the problem became so severe. Since then, it has been closed. Nature has begun to recover, despite strict travel restrictions that have reduced visitor numbers to the area.
Whale sharks are now known to be endangered off the coast. Turtle species have returned, and more than 40% of the Maya Bay coral fragments have survived.
Thon describes it as “a very satisfied figure achieved thanks to the absence of visitors.”
These coral reefs will need to recover fully without visitors for another 20 years.
Imagine Thailand as a new destination
However, there are still many Thais who depend on tourism for their income. The Thai government hopes to revive the industry by focusing on sustainable visitors.
It is planning to launch a long-term residence program that targets four groups of people in the wake of the pandemic. To attract professionals who want to work in the country alongside highly skilled individuals, wealthy global citizens, and retirees, Visas, Tax Incentives, and Relaxed Property Ownership Rules are offered.
The government is relaxing rules around yachting to attract quality visitors and revisiting taxes on luxury goods and personal belongings in order to increase visitor numbers.
Yuthasak Supasorn, Governor of Thailand’s Tourism Authority, stated that Thailand must attract high-value tourists in order to sustain its tourism sector in the future.
Phi Phi hopes to improve its tourism reputation. National Park chief Pramotekaewnam insists that the same mistakes won’t be made again.
Maya Bay will no longer allow boats to enter, but they will be diverted to another pier. Visitors will be limited to 300 and only eight watercraft can dock at once. Tourists will be permitted to visit the dock for an hour.
To limit the impacts on ocean life, designated areas are being established for water activities.
As Thailand’s tourism industry recovers after being shut down for nearly two years, it is now more about quality than quantity.