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Haze Dampens Travel Enthusiasm



Wildfires are among the main causes of the worsening air quality and haze in the North


CHIANGRAI TIMES – A smoky haze covering eight Northern provinces could lead to losses in tourism revenue during the school holidays set to start in early April. Tourism Authority of Thailand northern office director, Suphakit Polachan, warned earlier this week that the haze would deter domestic travel bookings to the North.

People warned to stay indoors as hospital patients complain of respiratory and eye problems

Up until Tuesday when a massive rain storm hit Chiang Rai, the province was suffering its worst air pollution in decades. The out-of-season rain storm late Tuesday night brought some relief and may have helped to dampen forest fires east of the city bringing with it cooler and cleaner air.

Residents have been stifling in the unusually hot and dry weather with the added health risk of poor air quality, caused by illegal burning of forest and rice paddy fields.

Other northern provinces suffering from haze are Chiang Mai; Lamphun; Lampang; Mae Hong Son; Nan; Phrae and Phayao province.

Already the situation is causing travel cancellations mainly in the domestic market. Traditionally, Thai travellers prefer northern destinations to beaches, but in recent years they have been gradually shifting to beach holidays.

Mr Suphakit estimates a drop of 10% in bookings both from local and international markets, which will cost around Bt50 billion in potential reveune.

The haze crisis in the eight provinces  kicked in 15 December last year, but was not a serious threat until February.

“We need to resolve the haze crisis before the beginning of April, when tourists will flock to the North to enjoy the annual Songkran festival.”

Meanwhile, the Association of Domestic Travel president, Maiyarat Pheerayakoses, told TTR Weekly that cancellations are manageable as the season is ending and there are other destinations that appeal to domestic travellers. The impact on tour companies is not dramatic as travellers book trips elsewhere.

The real loss is for the hotels, fixed assets, that are suffering a decline in occupancy and revenue.

“December and January were good travel months spurred on by Chiang Mai’s Royal Flora, but the exhibition is now almost over,” said Ms Maiyarat. “From here on people will head to beach destinations in eastern and southern provinces instead until the next cool season,” she added.

But the haze problem poses serious long-term issues for the North to resolve, she said.

“Personally I am more concerned about the long-term impact. Songkran is nothing when compared to the threat the smoke presents for the environment and quality of life,” she said. “In the future no one will want to travel to the North due the uncertainty caused by the annual burn-off on agricultural land and forests.”

by Paphada Apimonton

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