BANGKOK (AFP): As environmentalists lament a potential paradise lost, Thailand’s tourism industry is hoping for a shot in the arm from next month’s release of Leonardo DiCaprio’s new movie “The Beach.” Despite a court battle over accusations that a beach was ruined during shooting of the film, authorities hope scenes of turquoise seas and heavenly beaches will spark a tourism boom. “Definitely, ‘The Beach’ movie will be positive for Thailand in general,” said Pradech Phayakvichien, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand. The controversy is all the more curious as the book on which “The Beach” is based — a cult novel of the same name by Alex Garland — rails against the destructive effect of heavy tourism. It tells the story of a traveller whose desire to get off the beaten track leads him to a remote and secret island inhabited by a community of displaced westerners intent on escaping the tourist throng. Authorities here are hoping Leonardo DiCaprio can follow in the footsteps of James Bond, pouring millions of tourist dollars into southern Thailand, despite claims 20th Century Fox did irreversible ecological damage to Phi Phi Island during filming. A compensation claim has been lodged by local administrators for more than 100 million baht (2.6 million dollars) against Fox and a local producer. “I think the release of a film like this will encourage young people to see the beauty of Thailand, and encourage more young backpackers to come here,” Di Caprio said in a statement issued during filming last year. The Tourism Authority of Thailand’s Pradech agrees. “You get a good impression from the film, the locations in Thailand, not only the beach but the cities,” said Pradech. Tourism has been a lifesaver for many Thai communities during the economic downturn, bringing in an estimated 8.3 million visitors and 309 billion baht (8.4 billion dollars) last year, he said. “Less than 30 percent of the revenues earned from tourism stay in the capital city. Seventy percent or more are spread around the country,” he added.
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