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Climbing bans blamed for killing tourism at Thailand climbing meccas

Legacy Phuket Gazette



Climbing bans blamed for killing tourism at Thailand climbing meccas | The Thaiger

PHUKET: Local tourism business operators this week blamed the rock climbing bans in Koh Yao Noi, Koh Phi Phi and Koh Poda for the savage drop in hotel and resort occupancy rates at Thailand’s climbing meccas – Tonsai and Railay Beach.

“Bungalow resort owners on Tonsai Beach saw occupancy rates drop by 50 per cent year on year in March, as various climbing bans drive climbers away from Krabi,” Elke Schmitz from Basecamp Tonsai rock climbing tours explained to the Phuket Gazette.

“While the four-month-old climbing bans on Koh Yao Noi and Koh Phi Phi initially seemed to affect only a small group of climbing tourists, the ban on deep water solo climbing – climbing an overhanging rock without a rope over deep water – at Koh Poda, right in front of Tonsai Beach, on February 24 brought a sudden and early end to high season to this small bay between Railay West and Ao Nang,” said Mr Schmitz.

The stunning scenery, warm waters and limestone formations in Krabi brought some of the best climbers in the world to Railay for the deep water soloing. Among the big-name climbers was 15-year-old American climber Ashima Shiraishi who, for a number of years, has been redefining the parameters of sport climbing, making ascents on climbs unconquered by any other woman.

The deep water soloing ban at Koh Poda initially led to hundreds of climbing tourists arriving in Krabi just to learn that they had travelled to one of the world’s most famous deep water solo sites in vain, explained Mr Schmitz.

“As anger and disappointment were vented online, the fact that 90 per cent of climbing routes in Southern Thailand are located in Railay and Tonsai and could be enjoyed as always, was not registered anymore,” Mr Schmitz said. “Three bans over a two month period at a world-famous rock climbing destination were enough persuasion for most climbers to take their holidays elsewhere.”

The damage done by the bans is also being blamed for drops in the number of domestic tourists at the more upscale Railay Beach, located next to Tonsai.

“I went to all the resorts in Railay to collect data for the monthly business meeting: Railay has never seen so few Thai tourists; we believe that the climbing bans are keeping Thai clients and climbers away,” said Sunya Yanggun, who manages Railay Garden View Resort.

Climbers are a tightly-knit community and sensitive to access issues, explained Julamanee Subhate, who runs three of the 17 resorts in Tonsai.

“I have never seen a season so bad for my business,” Mr Julamanee said.

Though more than 500 climbers signed a petition to lift the various climbing bans put in place by park officials, many in the industry – directly and indirectly – fear that the majority of climbing tourists are cutting Thailand from their itinerary, heading for Vietnam and Laos instead.

“Both countries’ climbing spots, Thakhet in Laos and Halong Bay in Vietnam, report higher visitor numbers than usual. Due to the increased demand, a climbing shop in Halong is even advertising employment opportunities for guides on a message board in Tonsai,” said Kidjah Prumrattanapong, the manger of the Forest Resort in Tonsai.

“My friend from Austria went climbing in Laos before coming to Tonsai and he told me that he met more ‘Tonsai climbers’ in Thakhet than in Tonsai. Over there it was so busy that people had to sleep in tents, while here, half of my bungalows lie vacant.”

Worapot Lomlim, the Ao Phang Nga National Park chief, in November moved to ban climbing walls under his jurisdiction in January. The effort killed locals guides’ ability to profit off Dump Wall, Watchtower, Big Tree Wall, The Mitt, HD Wall, Koh Roi, Grateful Wall and The Hang – effectively killing some of Thailand’s top off-the-beaten-path climbing holiday destinations.

“Climbing is an extreme sport and a risky activity. Even though there are safety regulations and well-tested equipment is being used, there is still the possibility of someone falling and dying,” said Mr Worapot at the time.

“Normally, climbing can be done in a park if the operators get permission from officers. All they have to do is send a letter requesting permission to conduct this kind of business in the area,” Mr Worapot said.

“In this case, it doesn’t matter if they do apply to designate the area as a climbing zone, as I have already decided to ban this activity. The walls are too steep; it is too dangerous.

“Please do not compare us to other places, as every officer has his own way of making decisions, and I say ‘no’ to this.”

Shortly after the ban was put in place on Koh Yao Noi, Sorayut Tansathian, the chief of Noppharat Thara – Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park, banned climbing activities on Phi Phi Don.

Mr Sorayut explained at the time that he was in discussions with the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) about what criteria should be part of the necessary qualifications to secure permission to climb in the park. However, months later the ban remains in place.

“Climbing will remain banned on Phi Phi and Koh Poda until further notice. The safety of tourists remains our top concern,” Mr Sorayut told the Gazette on April 30.

Mr Sorayut declined to give an update on his discussions with the DNP or to comment further on the topic. However, Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a member of the National Reform Council, who is at the Hat Noppharat Thara – Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park as a policy adviser, was able to provide more insight into the discussions.

“We are still in discussions with the DNP about exactly what qualifications a business must have to secure permission for offering climbing trips in national parks,” Dr Thon said.

“One of the rules that we’ve already agreed will need to be implemented is having a national park officer along as an escort in order to climb walls. This doesn’t mean the officer will actually be climbing, but he will be on site to ensure that those taking part in the activity aren’t damaging our precious natural resources.”

Dr Thon explained that his chief concern is ensuring the protection of the natural parks.

“National parks weren’t developed to be tourist attractions; they were developed to preserve nature. The fundamental needs of tourism and conservation efforts have negative impacts on each other. However, we understand there must be some compromises, but that does not mean sacrificing the beauty of our lands now so that our grandchildren won’t be able to enjoy them.”

Despite Dr Thon’s concerns about the impact of climbers on national parks, climbing communities throughout the world have a long history of environmental conservation efforts and awareness.

“This type of climbing is done outdoors, by a segment of tourists who are keenly aware of the importance of partnering with local authorities for nature conservation here in Thailand, just as they would in their home countries,” said Mr Schmitz.

“On Tonsai Beach, climbers have initiated and joined many garbage collection projects on the beaches and at the climbing crags. We’ve had Tonsai Big Cleaning Day, Beach Clean-ups at Ao Puya – Koh Poda and Trash Hero Railay Chapter just to name a few of the efforts.”

Prior to Dr Thon highlighting his concerns about the possible damage inflicted on national parks through climbing tourism, the main concern voiced by officials had been the safety of tourists.

Statements from park officials such as: “There is no need for an expert’s opinion on this; I can see myself that it is not safe” and “Tourist safety is our top priority, so we are thinking of what needs to be done to guarantee climbers’ safety” have raised a number of eyebrows in the climbing community.

“It is easy to forget that rock climbing is not a traditional Thai sport. This explains the often astonishing lack of understanding that most Thai officials have of ‘farang’ sports, such as climbing or scuba diving,” said Mr Schmitz.

“Lack of understanding can also explain why the local climbing community was neither consulted nor informed prior to the bans. However, what infuriates local Thais working as climbing guides the most are the repeated references to lack of safety.”

There has not been a single case of a serious injury or death of a tourist due to neglect on the part of a climbing guide, confirmed Abdultalep Janjit, chairman of the Railay Rock Climbing Club.

“Let me make this easy for everyone to understand. All legitimate tourism activities must be accommodated by the authorities,” Dr Thon said.

“At this juncture, it’s best to look forward. We will establish rules for rock climbing in national parks in the next two months, as we recognize the importance of this tourism market. Nonetheless, we have to continue with the temporary ban until the ground rules are established. This does not mean it will be banned forever.”

— Isaac Stone Simonelli

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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Phuket police arrest meth dealer, discover drugs valued at 15 million baht

The Thaiger & The Nation



Phuket police arrest meth dealer, discover drugs valued at 15 million baht | The Thaiger

PHOTO: Newshawk Phuket

Drugs valued at 15 million baht have been seized in a drug crackdown in Phuket. On October 22, Phuket police, along with Phuket Governor Pakkapong Tawipat, reported to the media about a drug crackdown that ended up with a total seizure valued around 15 million baht.

Earlier, the police received a report from an undercover agent that a woman named ‘Ying’ or ‘Suthicha Thirawut’ was a local drug dealer trading drugs in Phuket area, so police planned to purchase drugs from the woman. They contacted Ying through another woman named ‘Noina’, Ying’s close friend. Around 10pm on October 20, police bought 1 gram of crystal methamphetamine from Noina before arresting Ying and another man, Thanet Thongtan, at the Naka Condominium.

The two confessed that they receive the drug from a man who they weren’t able to name, in order to sell in Phuket. They were paid 40,000 – 50,000 baht per time and admitted to police that they have done this for the man three times already. This time, the drugs hadn’t been sold to customers as they were arrested before being able to make a sale.

Apart from 2.4 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine, valued around 4.8 million baht, the police also discovered 76,800 methamphetamine pills, worth around 11 million baht.

The three are now assisting Phuket police with their enquires related to the case.

SOURCE: Newshawk Phuket

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30 dolphins greet visitors to Similan Islands

Greeley Pulitzer



30 dolphins greet visitors to Similan Islands | The Thaiger

Tourists were treated to the sight of a school of dolphins in the Similan Islands off the Phang Nga coast on Sunday.

Tour organisers said that around 30 dolphins swam close to the boat six or seven miles offshore, creating excitement for passengers. It was the first time dolphins had been seen in the vicinity since October 15.

The Similan Islands National Park director said they were bottlenose dolphins and were among several species now returning to the area following a five-year closure of the park for environmental rehabilitation. Food is again plentiful there for them, he said.

Tourists are forbidden to feed wildlife lest the free handouts alter the animals’ natural behaviour, and the park’s waters are also very sensitive to contamination from human disease and marine debris, according to the director.


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Phuket hotels slashing the price of rooms

The Thaiger



Phuket hotels slashing the price of rooms | The Thaiger

by Sophie Deviller

Hotels on Thailand’s most popular holiday island are being forced to slash prices, with rooms left vacant and beaches sparse as Thailand’s tourism chiefs struggle with a plunge in Chinese visitors caused by the US trade war and a stronger baht. Phuket was the most visited destination in the country last year, after Bangkok, and a good gauge of the state of its crucial travel industry.

Tourism accounts for 18% of Thailand’s gross domestic product and Chinese holidaymakers make up more than a quarter of total arrivals. But while 2.2 million people from the country visited in 2018, according to official figures, the numbers for January-September were down almost 20% year on year.

Claude de Crissey, the French Honorary Consul in Phuket and owner of about 40 rooms in the Patong Beach area, says Chinese tourists are usually present even during the current low season.

“That was not the case this year,” he said, adding he had to lower his prices by as much as 50%.

The problem is not only in Phuket, with hotels also struggling to fill rooms in the seaside resort of Pattaya on the mainland and on Koh Samui.

Trade tensions with the US have already made some Chinese reluctant to take holidays owing to uncertainty back home, while the Thai baht has risen about 10% against the yuan this year.

A boating disaster off Phuket’s coast that killed 47 Chinese holidaymakers in July 2018 also scared some off.

“We are worried,” said an industry insider, declining to be named due to the sensitivity of the topic in a country where tourism provides tens of thousands of jobs. Adding to the headache is the fact that more than 3,000 new hotel rooms are being constructed on the island, raising the question of who will fill them.

Phuket hotels slashing the price of rooms | News by The Thaiger

“In terms of business, it’s not good,” said Kongsak Khoopongsakorn, vice-president of the association of hotels in Thailand and director of Vijitt Resort.

“Because … we have more hotels, more rooms to sell, we have more restaurants, more coffee shops.”

Still, tourism authority chairman Yuthasak Supasorn said he remained “optimistic.”

“We should reach our goal of 39.8 million foreign visitors.”

However, that is only up from 38.2 million in 2018, much less than the jump seen from the previous year’s total of 35.6 million.

Counting on India

Now hoteliers and tour package operators are targeting visitors from elsewhere, particularly India, which experts see as a huge untapped market.

A rapid expansion of the middle class in India, increased direct flights and visa-free travel have prompted Thailand to revise forecasts upwards.

It now expects two million Indian tourists this year, after an increase of nearly 25% on-year in the first seven months. But for now, the lower arrivals is evident on the streets of Phuket.

“I’ve never seen anything as bad as what it is at the moment,” said Paul Scott from Australia, who said he has been coming to Thailand for 15 years.

He mainly blamed the stronger baht for the drop-off but also the fact that Thailand wasn’t the untouched vacation paradise it once was. “Now it’s not so new … and it’s not cheap,” he said.


Phuket hotels slashing the price of rooms | News by The Thaiger

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