Tourism in Chiang Mai may be damaged by air pollution

PHOTO: Chiang Mai's tourism industry may be hurt due to air pollution. (via TCIJ)

The Northern region of Thailand, especially Chiang Mai, is experiencing a hazardous level of ultra-fine PM2.5 dust particles in the air. This is causing concerns among tourism operators in the city that the situation will negatively impact the industry.

Pallop Saejiew, the president of Chiang Mai’s Tourism Industrial Council, worries about the long-term effects on the province’s tourism industry. Demand has been dropping for outdoor activities and tourist attractions in the inner areas of the province.

However, hotels in the area have yet to issue figures showing a sharp jump in cancellations. The number of tourists arriving and departing from Chiang Mai’s airport is lower than during the past high tourism season when the air was cleaner.

Tourism industry officials worry that this drop suggests that people may be realising that the air quality is poor and choosing to avoid travel to Chiang Mai and the Northern provinces. The haze has caused a decrease in tourist visits to the area, according to Witthaya Khrongsap, a coordinator of a civic group called Network of Northern Breath.

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The haze situation is expected to last until April. The tourism president called for state agencies to work together with tourism operators to tackle this air pollution problem, calling it crucial.

The Pollution Control Department (PCD) reported that almost all areas in the 17 northern provinces recorded a higher level of PM2.5 dust particles than the safe level of 50 µg/m3, with levels ranging from 93 to 203 µg/m3.

Tambon Hangdong in the Hot district of Chiang Mai has the worst PM2.5 situation due to biomass burning and weather conditions that trap smoke and pollution.

The level of dust in the air was starkly described as “lung-breaking” by Witsanu Attavanich, a member of Thailand Clean Air Network (Thailand CAN) and associate professor at Kasetsart University.

The deputy director of the Chiang Mai office of the Tourism Authority of Thailand disagreed with the gloomy tourism forecast. He says that tourism numbers in Chiang Mai are still strong and increasing despite the haze problem.

More than 260,000 tourists were said to have visited Chiang Mai last month, averaging approximately 9,000 per day, including about 70,000 foreign tourists.

In addition to Chiang Mai, the Greater Bangkok area has also recorded high levels of PM2.5 in certain areas. But there is hope that the southern winds will help sweep the haze away and make the air a bit more breathable soon.

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Neill Fronde

Neill is a journalist from the United States with 10+ years broadcasting experience and national news and magazine publications. He graduated with a degree in journalism and communications from the University of California and has been living in Thailand since 2014.

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