CHIANG RAI, 19 March 2019: Air and water pollution, two subjects that can deliver a negative outcome for the economy and tourism, are in the news this week.
Bangkok Airways announced for the second time in a week it was cancelling flights to Mae Hong Son, a mountain valley town nestled in the northwest of Thailand bordering Myanmar.
In Bangkok the Minister of Tourism, Weerasak Kowsurat, led a boat flotilla at the weekend to clean up the waterways of a so-called greed area of Bangkok often called the “lungs of the city.”
Fishing for plastic garbage on Bangkachao’s canals, that are lined with orchards, coconut trees and market garden villages, illustrates how the country is clogging up its waterways with plastic refuse endangering fisheries and water quality.
But when airlines find they can no longer fly to popular tourist destinations across North Thailand, due a suffocating smog, there is no doubt tourism has a serious problem
Between polluted water and the bright blue sky that is now concealed by a leaden grey smog, northern residents and tourists alike see the essentials of life and happiness deminish and
Airlines might not be the big losers in the long-term as travellers can switch to destinations that have a more healthy AQI such as Phuket and Samui at 70 and Chang Island around 60.
In contrast, northern destinations are hovering between unhealthy and dangerous levels on the air quality index. Pai and Mae Hong Son, havens for young budget travellers, are suffering AQI levels of 172 to as high as 316. Even if visibility allowed Bangkok Airways to fly who in their right mind would book a holiday flight to explore a “pea soup” smog?
Chiang Mai on Monday afternoon was suffering under a blanket of smog registered at 231 AQI, while Chiang Rai town choked with a AQI count of 170 and as high as 233 at Mae Sai on the border with Myanmar.
Airlines are flying fewer passengers to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai as travellers correctly conclude the holiday experience will dramatically depreciate.
There are warnings that the smog will continue to cover North Thailand well into April when the country celebrates Songkran. Once the smog dissipates, the tendency is always to take a deep breath of fresh air and forget we ever had a problem.
But we do, every year the season of smog will take its toll and eventually force us to add a fourth season to the traditional cool, hot and wet climes.
Like the plastic that is dropped carelessly in the canals of Bangkok’s green belt,
The Minister of Tourism and Sports on a boat trip to fish for plastic garbage could be dismissed as a PR gimmick.
However, it is a timely reminder that we all need to rethink our lifestyles and say no to destructive habits that are destroying our health and environment.