CHIANGRAI TIMES – Chiang Rai Tourism Council says smoke and haze in Thailand’s northern provinces will cut tourist arrivals by at least 20% if nothing is done to end a potential business disaster.
Northern Thailand is covered with haze from illegal burning of rice fields and forest land. Some towns including Chiang Rai have warned residents the smoke is now a health hazard advising residents to stay indoors.
The man-made crisis follows on from last year’s floods in the central plains and could seriously hamper tourism recovery in North Thailand if it continues.
Last year, the country’s tourism was hit by floods in central Thailand that also impacted on the delivery of tourists to northern destinations. Fires have the potential to repeat the same kind of damage during the remainder of the holiday season that should close with a bumper Songkran Festival celebration mid-April in Chiang Mai.
Chiang Rai Tourism Council president, Somkiat Chuentheerawong, said the haze will cause international tourists to travel elsewhere at a time when the province is celebrating its 750th anniversary and hopes to improve its tourism.
“The seasonal forest and farmland burning has got out of hand and will hurt tourism,” he said noting that it would cause a 20% drop in tourism if there is no improvement.
Tourist arrivals were down at the end of the year due to the flood in around Bangkok. Chiang Rai relies entirely on Bangkok for its tourism, as there are no international flights to the northern city.
City and provincial authorities have threatened to fine farmers who burn off the fields, but corruption is rife and very little is done to apply the law at local level.
Meanwhile, Chiang Rai Tourism Association chairman, Apicha Trasin, warned the burning would harm people’s health and also scare away tourists.
Chiang Rai recorded the highest level of dust particles at 327 microgrammes per cubic metre last Tuesday. In Mae Sai district it reached 258.8 microgrammes per cubic metre, exceeding safety standards set at 120 microgrammes cubic per metre, while visibility dropped to just 300 to 500 metres.