Saving the Thai paradise island of Phuket

Can Thailand save the paradise island of Phuket from pollution and overtourism before it’s too late? Source: Shutterstock.

THE once idyllic beaches of Boracay island in the Philippines and Thailand’s Maya Bay made popular by The Beach have one thing in common: they are victims of overtourism.

In fact, the devastating impact of mass tourism has led to a tourist ban on both islands to allow for recuperation, with the latter being closed indefinitely to visitors.

And now, the southern Thai island of Phuket is ramping up efforts to preserve its beaches before it is completely damaged by tourists too.

Phuket is a rainforested, mountainous island in the Andaman Sea and home to some of Thailand’s most popular beaches, well loved by millions of sun seekers.

Its location along the west coast of Thailand affords it stunning beaches and clear waters, all within reach of its many high-end seaside resorts and restaurants.

The island is also popular with partygoers as they often flock to Patong, the main resort town and Phuket’s famous “watering hole,” to club-hop or dance the night away as its many nightclubs, bars, and discos.

In just the first four months of 2018 alone, Phuket International Airport welcomed 3.5 million people, a 19 percent year-on-year increase.

However, the weight of tourist arrivals and bad waste management is fast becoming one of the island’s biggest burdens.

During high season, many of the island’s shores become littered with trash and it is not uncommon to see plastic bags and cigarette butts floating in the ocean, which contributes to the island’s dwindling marine life.

Source: Shutterstock.

“Phuket is my paradise island, and I don’t want to see it damaged by tourists,” SCMP quoted 11-year-old Phuket resident Chawanwit Petcharat as saying. “I want to see the turtles come back and lay eggs on the beach and no trash in the sea.”

As such, Phuket hoteliers are now uniting to implement measures to ensure plastic and pollution will not ruin the island.

In June, the Phuket Hotel Association’s members launched a series of initiatives aimed at reducing the use of plastic; tackling the garbage that washed up on its shores; educating staff, local communities, and tourists.

Together, the members agreed to phase out single-use plastic and put in place plans to stop using plastic water bottles and straws by 2019.

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), which manages seven resorts in Phuket, has committed to stop using plastic straws by next year. Collectively, the group’s Phuket establishments used more than 15 million plastic straws last year.

Equally, Thailand’s largest retailer Central Group, which produces 1.5 million plastic bags per month, has also pledged to phase out giving out free plastic bags to its Phuket customers. The group aims to reduce it by 50 percent by the end of 2018.

Meanwhile, Six Senses Hotels Resorts and Spas president Bernhard Bohnenberger has suggested implementing other measures such as enforcing a tourist cap or charging daily fees to tackle the issue of mass tourism.

“You have to be very careful about how to manage the flow of people because it’s not just plastic, but the impact of mass tourism on places, and you have to limit how you deal with it,” SCMP quoted Bohnnberger as saying. “Charge more and allow less.”

Bohnenberger cited Bhutan as an example, where foreign visitors must pay a daily fee of up to US$250 (US$200 a day from December to February and June to August), with a US$40/30 surcharge per person for those in a group of one/two.