CHIANG RAI – The hazardous haze in Northern Thailand has led to a plunge in hotel bookings in several provinces for Songkran, lowering the expected occupancy rate during the holiday to just 60% from an average of 85% in previous years.
“Despite no cancellations last month, we received small advance bookings for April,” said La-Iad Bungsrithong, president of the Thai Hotels Association’s northern chapter, whose members are hotels in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son.
The projection is based on average bookings for Songkran during April 11-15 of some 10,000 rooms for hotels in the three provinces.
The massive amount of dust pollution in the North is caused mainly by forest fires, prompting authorities to issue health warnings to people suffering respiratory ailments and suggesting residents wear masks when going out.
Ms La-Iad said the dust accumulation is the worst in 10 years in Chiang Mai, a popular tourism destination.
“The areas with forest fires are getting bigger in several nearby provinces, while there is no rain to help mitigate the haze,” she said.
With authorities working to put out the fires, the association hopes that the situation will improve and that people will make last-minute decisions to travel to the North.
The northern provinces offer a wide range of accommodation, combining more than 60,000 keys at a variety prices, starting at hundreds of baht a night and exceeding 10,000 baht in some cases.
Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), voiced concern about the situation, especially hotels located in Chiang Dao, Mae Rim and Fang districts, which could see a drop in bookings to a mere 50%. These districts sit close to forest fire sites, Mr Yuthasak said.
He said that starting this weekend the TAT will work with local authorities and hoteliers to spray water from the rooftops of hotels to reduce the smoke.
Thunderstorms anticipated within the next few days will also improve the situation, he said.
The TAT estimates that 546,000 international tourists will come to Thailand for Songkran, while locals will make 3.1 million trips during the holiday.
The festival is expected to generate 20 billion baht in tourism income.
By Dusida Worrachaddejchai, Walailak Keeratipipatpong
The Bangkok Post