Tourism is a major foreign exchange source and spurs the economic growth of any country which decides to develop it. This is why many countries have strived to promote their tourism sector, a trend that Thailand has embraced more than any country in South East Asia. It promotes spur sustainable economic development that consequently improves the living standards of the local people and increases the nation’s wealth as a whole. A whole province of Phuket has its economy heavily relying on tourism that contributes to nearly half (42%) of the gross provincial product (Kontogeorgopoulos. It has also created thousands of jobs either directly or indirectly especially in the hotel industry and traders hence reducing the unemployment rate.
On a negative note, it has also led to social-cultural erosion and the destruction of natural habitats in Thailand, especially in the coastal regions. The emergence of sex tourism as a result of mass tourism has been seen to be the source of social and cultural degradation, a phenomenon that has led to the spread of diseases like HIV/AIDS.
Thailand is found in South East Asia, geographically located between Cambodia and Burma, it extends from Lop Buri in the north and covering the rice bowl of the central plains around the Chao Phraya River. Like many other developing countries, tourism is a major factor in the economic development on the Kingdom of Thailand, estimated to have contributed to approximately 7.0% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2007 alone.
Furthermore, Thailand’s central region’s history is dramatic with the heritage of ancient temples, ruins left on battlefields, and the used to be capital of Ayutthaya and the current capital Bangkok are always tourist attraction centers due to their fascinating features. Together with the east and west sea coasts towards the southern region, they attract huge numbers of visitors mostly holidaymakers from all over the world.
It has been noted that tourism is a major foreign exchange source and spurs the economic growth of any country which decides to develop it, a reason to promote tourism by many governments of the world. This is why Thailand, among the countries in the Southeast Asian countries, has taken the most advanced approach to tourism development including promotional activities to spur sustainable economic development that consequently improves the living standards of the local people and increases the nation’s wealth as a whole.
A province like Phuket’s economy relies heavily on tourism, contributing to nearly half (42%) of the gross provincial product (Kontogeorgopoulos 1998, P.315; Raksakulthai 2003, P.6), and second to only Bangkok in terms of their contribution to the Thai economy. This economic importance has been seen in the way many areas in southern provinces like Phang Nga province’s Khao Lak beach have tried to emulate the Phuket model of tourism development despite its larger portion being frequently destroyed by Tsunamis, a constant threat to tourism success (Israngkiura 2005, P.16).
The hotel industry has generally benefited tremendously through tourists visits and bookings. Large numbers of tourists (estimated at over 14 million in 2007) visiting these areas have improved the revenues in the country, and private businesses have also thrived in this competitive sector of the economy (Murphy & Bayley, 1989, P. 33.). It has been estimated that 55% of tourists in 2007 mainly came from the Asia Pacific, comprising mainly of Japanese nationals and Malaysians. While on the other hand, tourists from the west are mainly from Britain, Germany, Scandinavia, and U.S (Drabek 1996, P.2)
Apart from the hotels industry’s benefits, tourism also boosts local traders who basically trade on jewelry and unique artifacts. The Asian tourists who prefer Bangkok due to its unique and historical artifacts, natural and cultural sights too get value for their time and money spent when visiting Thailand. The northern part of Thailand is a favorite for trekkers and those who travel purposefully to adventure. This is due to the north’s diverse ethnic groups of minority and its undulating mountains (Thailand Outlook, 2005, P4 ).
The Bangkok capital is famous for its opportunities to shop, wonderful culture represented by its landmarks coupled with busy and vibrant night activities. The shopping malls do offer numerous brands both made locally and internationally. Such a market as “Chatuchak Weekend Market” is arguably the biggest market in the world that sells virtually everything including household items. This offers the entrepreneurs the opportunity to get income through their businesses by selling items like T-shirts, handicrafts, sunglasses, etc (Faulkner, 2000)
Tourism has also created thousands of jobs either directly or indirectly. The jobs range from tour guides to hotel industry employments. This has had both economic and social benefits to the people of Thailand. As a sign of social benefit, many people are able to involve themselves in careers related to tourism that has seen a number of young people getting absorbed in the job market thus reducing the unemployment rate, a common phenomenon in developing nations (Lee et al, 2004, P.23)
Through Medical Tourism, Thai is able to attract more tourists who want affordable and variable medical services. According to Medical-Tourism-in-Thailand.COM, “Medical tourism in Thailand is a low-cost health insurance alternative and a great source for things which cheap health insurance usually excludes such as a cosmetic dentist”. The Medical tourist doctors in Thailand also offer medical services like plastic surgery at affordable costs.
Other than economic benefits of tourism, Thai people have also experienced the social impact of tourism. It has been noted that tourism can either be a source of peace or conflict, depending on several other factors such as religion, environmental factors, and cultural believes of the people. Some of the social benefits that the Thai nationals have got from the tourism as hosts have been the development of positive attitudes towards the other people and their culture, learning the culture of the people of the world as well as popularizing their own culture. The locals are also bale to develop their pride, respect and the tolerance to other people’s religious and cultural believes since they get educated in their locality about the life of other people outside their locality.
With the tourism boosts, the people of Thailand have got access to many social amenities that were built to target tourists. Such social amenities are like schools, libraries, healthcare institutions and many more. The preservation of culture of the people of Thailand has been as a result of natural demand of the tourists who have the culture as their attraction point for example the preservation of historical sites in Bangkok and traditional handicraft in the markets has been a major factor catalyzing the preservation of these artifacts.
On the other hand, tourism can cause conflict (Choi et al 2005, P.23). It has been claimed that large hotels in Bangkok and other cities normally import foods that would satisfy the visiting tourists and do not employ locals in senior management levels. Tourism has also affected the cultural organization of the people of Thailand. For example, the sex tourism has affected the tourism industry in Thailand, with many young and underage children getting involved in the sex tourism business. There has also been the development of artificial structures especially at the Southern coasts that has interfered with the ecological set up of the regions. This has occurred to the mass tourism in this region that has generally led to over consumption, and pollution a long the coastlines of Thailand’s coastal region and many regions like the north’s forests
However, Thai has faced several problems that have cost them the success in tourism sector. The Tsunami disasters that have struck have constantly affected the tourism industry more than any other industry in Thailand. According to projections of Bank of Thailand, almost 1.2 million fewer tourists are likely to shun the provinces of the south that are frequently affected by the Tsunami (Israngkiura 2005, P. 16). This is because destinations that are popular with tourists like Khao Lak normally have their resorts destroyed hence it take quite a while before it they are restored and repaired. Mainly, the impact of the tsunami especially on tourism is mainly seen in the few demands and supply of tourist facilities (Raksakulthai, 2003, P.66).
Another threatening phenomenon is that during the season when tourism season in Thailand was in its peak, the many victims were tourists. Because the tourists always like the highly hazardous areas, they remain highly vulnerable to such disasters as Tsunami (Drabek, 1994, P.21). Similarly, many people (tourists) who go to the hazardous regions have little knowledge of the local common but irregular disasters and at the same time cannot understand the local language of disaster communication (Raksakulthai, 2003, P.103)
The tsunami impact especially in the southern coasts has therefore inflicted a general fear that the region is generally unsafe. This perception has not gone down well with the general tourism sector since the negative publicity of the tsunami in the region has been a major impediment to the success of tourism promotion in the region. However, as experts suggests, more effort should be put in the building tourist’s confidence in the area. At the same time, some argue that confidence will only return only if the no disaster strikes in the near future (Raksakulthai, 2003, P.154)
The tsunami disaster has also destroyed infrastructure, a major factor in tourism promotion and success. The destruction of roads, electricity power lines, and water supply system may interfere with the general provision of critical services especially if the two separate infrastructures are interconnected to one another, i.e. if one is dependent on another in order for a service to be provided, for instance the dependent of water supply system on electricity.
It is noted that tourism depend on a lot of development of both physical and social structures; the sector rely heavily on the support from other sectors of the economy, basically requiring the ingredients like food, lodging, transportation, and those who provide or support these services’ provision like the traders who distribute the food stuff, the technicians and specialists who maintain the likes of water and electricity supply systems for consistent and reliable service provision for the tourists. Due to these factors, it is realized that the number of tourists decrease considerably during such disasters as it happened during the Boxing Day tsunami, which affected revenue.
It is however unanimously agreed that the unique features in the southern regions of Thai that is billed to have some of the most beautiful beaches and the best managed tourists’ resorts in the world. This has set unique standards for the south despite the disaster threats, setting it a part from other regions. One major reason why the southern regions receive many tourist visitors is because of its proximity to the shores of the ocean and their beautiful beaches.
Therefore the measure that is more effective is the establishment of tsunami warning system and the establishment of evacuation scheme, as seen in the Thai government’s effort to build the tsunami-warning towers installed with loudspeakers that warn the people of the tsunami possibility in several languages. The other way of mitigation is the establishment of what is popularly known by the experts as “vertical evacuation” (Ruch, et al, 1991, p.49-52).
In this concept, the buildings are set in such a manner that they are able to resist the tsunami waves. In a case of tall modern buildings, research found out that they were able to resist the waves in a proper way. It has been noted that buildings that are up to three to five storey are able to withstand the impact of the tsunami waves, hence people would be warned to move upwards to the higher floors in order to be safe. The vertical evacuation is very useful especially for those who are impaired in terms of mobility due to age factor or physical impairment. This is because having these people to move as fast to the safer places would be a far- fetched idea especially when there is much urgency, hence having a secure place to move in as fast as possible within the area is easier.
It thus follows that tourism can have both positive and negative impact on the people. While the economic development can be very lucrative, the social impacts can either be bad or good, thus depending on the extent in which tourism has been developed as seen in Thailand. Such negative impacts are like the degradation of the environment, cultural erosion and cultural conflicts.
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