If I say Phuket, what pops up into your mind? Probably that it is a large island in the south of Thailand (map can be found below) with countless opportunities. Phuket has beautiful beaches with white sand, palm trees and friendly local people. You wouldn’t think of anything negative, would you? Well, let me say that in each holiday destinations there are local people involved. Do you think they will only enjoy the advantages of tourism, or are there also disadvantages? How are the locals involved in the tourism developments? And what are the consequences of mass tourism on the locals? What could CBT destinations learn from this? These are some questions I am going to answer in this blog.
Why this blog post?
You might ask yourself why I write this blog post. It has to do with my study and CBT. To be more specific: at the moment I am studying community-based tourism in Thailand. I came here for this minor because I wanted to see another side of tourism, namely where local communities show their way of living to other people and therefore preserve their culture. Also, I think tourism is a nice and dynamic industry to work in but there are always the local people that you should take into account when developing a destination. The reason I’m writing this blog is because I am missing in the CBT program how tourism can go too far and which impacts it has on local people. The reason I focused on Phuket is because this is an overdeveloped destination. I think this might be interesting to CBT management as well as they must be aware of what damage mass tourism can do on local people. Because there are so many benefits of CBT to locals, people tend to forget that there could be negative aspects as well. My goal is to show the negative aspects tourism can have to CBT destinations so that CBT managers can take these into account when developing a destination further. This blog post is divided into different topics: first I am going to explain the history of tourism in Phuket. Then, I will explain the social impacts of tourism followed by the economic- and the environmental impacts. After that, the conclusion follows.
Let’s start with some history of the island of Phuket. Previously, Phuket was a rural area which was rich in natural resources such as rubber, palm oil and tin in which the Phuketians (inhabitants of Phuket) traded. It used to welcome first domestic tourist and later international tourists too. From 1980, however, Phuket has grown into one of the most popular tourist destinations in Thailand. From that moment on Phuket shifted from the wealth from natural resources to international tourists that require sun, sea and sand. To meet the needs of the large number of tourists many international resorts, hotels and shopping facilities have been built the last decades. Furthermore, infrastructure has been improved and expanded as well.
Now I am going into detail about the social impacts on locals. First let me ask you a question: did you know that Raiwai beach on Phuket was the home of the sea gypsies, a community of around 2000 people? And that they have been sent away from their natural habitat? Well, it all goes back to 1980. Phuket became a very popular holiday destination and attracted more and more tourists. Entrepreneurs on Phuket wanted to buy the land and built resorts and hotels for tourist. Therefore the sea gypsies had to leave their habitat: Raiwai beach. Now they live on 1/20 of their former homeland squashed together and live in poor conditions in Phuket. The sea gypsies made attempts to conserve their traditions and pass it on to the younger generations, however, the sea gypsies seem to adapt to the modern lifestyle.
I wonder how I will feel if one day someone said to me that I have to leave my home because others want to build resorts there for tourists. I think that the sea gypsies also have a say and should not be sent away: they also have rights! Also, modernization as a consequence of tourism turns the gypsies’ traditional lifestyle into a more modern lifestyle. I think there must be done more to preserve the culture of local communities. Because in CBT the communities are the most important aspect, they should be aware of the dangers of modernization in which their culture could be lost.
Next to social impacts, there are economic impacts as well. Examples of this are: increased prices of goods and services, land and housing and cost of living. Furthermore, there are more costs for building additional infrastructure which is necessary for the growing number of tourists in Phuket. There are higher costs for road maintenance. Also, because tourism is seasonal work, there will not be an equal distribution of income during the year. For example during high season there will be more tourists than in low season and more income will be generated during high season. As the damage of the tsunami in 2004 has shown that such natural disasters can disturb the local economy, it is risky to be very dependent on tourism when Mother Nature comes in: you never know when she will strike again. The damage of the tsunami on Phuket can be seen on the front picture of my blog. It shows that Mother Nature can be tough and can ruin holiday destinations. Agriculture is after tourism the most important source of income in Thailand. In Phuket it happened that land owners sell their rubber plantations because they rather work in the tourism industry. As land becomes more expensive in Phuket, land owners receive money from selling their plantations. Unfortunately, this also means again that locals rely more on tourism than they did before, so when that goes wrong, there is no other income they can rely on. An example of my own experience is that I have been to the community named Baan Rim Klong. The people from the community, however, have additional income such as agriculture next to their CBT work so that they do not completely rely on the income generated from tourism.
After I have discussed the social and the economic impacts, the environmental impacts are next. From 1990 Phuket began to experience environmental problems because reckless economic growth. For example water pollution is a problem in Phuket as hotels and restaurants dump their waste into the water. Although Phuket has taken initiative to handle those problems, it is impossible to manage the problems in a sustainable way because of the growing number of tourist each year. Because there is more garbage on the island than can be handled, each day there is surplus of 50 to 100 tons garbage piling up every day in Phuket. Also a huge amount of garbage is put into sanitary landfills, which means that garbage is put under the ground, on a daily basis. Other garbage is dumped into a mangrove area in Phuket. I bet you can imagine how much garbage there is on the island and how polluted it is. Therefore, there are not enough dumpsites in Phuket. Next to that, tourists demand a higher amount of water (400,000 cubic meters) than the locals (300,000) and that amount is not even available. There is only one water treatment plant on Phuket which should handle polluted water around the island.
As I have already been to two communities I have already some experience in how the communities manage waste. Firstly, in Bang Nam Phueng, there was lots of waste in the area. There was definitely a lack of trash bins to put your trash into. I think it is a real problem in the community. Secondly, in Baan Rim Klong waste was much better regulated as garbage was separated and there were enough trash bins to put your garbage into.
Unregulated tourism can destroy the natural resources of destinations like in Phuket. Because of the large scale tourism which involves infrastructure or the building of constructions, it can put pressure on the marine life and ecosystems. Usually, Thailand has the tendency to be short-sighted and plan upon that. Therefore, tourism must be very well regulated in order to keep the natural resources which are very important to local people.
After so many negative facts, you were already hoping for something positive, don’t you? I can only say that people learn from bad things just like from these negative impacts. Therefore, I hope that CBT managers take these impacts into account as well and to learn from them. If in the future CBT will become very popular, it should be well managed in order to not overdo it like: losing the culture or that the natural resources will be destroyed.
Please leave a reply! What you think CBT managers can learn from the negatives of mass-tourism?
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