The Perils of Tourism

I have been at it again. After arriving in the UK in July upon the completion of my around the world trip I settled down into my studies. However, the duties of a traveller are never over. On December the 14th I set off again, the destination this time: Thailand.

This trip to Thailand was a family vacation, meaning that instead of going it alone I would be accompanied by my parents, my brother and my sister. We are a well travelled family. Whether it is a trip to Knysna for Christmas or a skiing holiday in the American North East we tend to spend time away from home as a family at least once a year.

The choice of destination in normally the decision of my parents, but a tradition was implemented whereby in our final year of high school myself, my brother and my sister get to choose the destination. Five years ago I chose the Maldives. Two years later my brother (in a stunning display of originality) chose the Maldives. This year my sister stated that she didn’t mind where we go as long as it’s by the beach, hence, we went to Thailand.

The Kingdom of Thailand
The Kingdom of Thailand

Logistically, getting to Thailand was a nightmare for me. As a result of the around the world ticket I used for my last trip I had to return to Johannesburg before the end of the year. My trip involved the 11 hour flight from London to Johannesburg, 1 hour to Durban, a 5 hour layover in Durban (during which time I went home), an 8 hour flight to Dubai, a 6 hour flight to Bangkok and finally a 1 hour flight to Phuket. Counting the time between flights and correcting for time zone changes it took me 43 hours to get to my destination…! I daresay I needed to lie down on the beach after that.

Now, I’m going to go on a bit of a rant here. Before I do I want to say that I absolutely loved Thailand; it is a wonderful country full of happy, kind people and is as beautiful as any country I have visited before. It is because of that beauty that I am going to go on my rant because as much as I enjoyed my 10 days in paradise there was one thought that I simply couldn’t get out of my head: this is not going to be here is a few years time.

What I expected from Phi Phi Island.
What I expected from Phi Phi Island.

We took a day trip to Phi Phi Island (one of the quintessential things to do when in Phuket if the countless tour operators are to be believed) and nowhere is the unsustainability of Thai tourism more evident. What could be one of the most beautiful places on the planet is being decimated. The multitude of boats parked side-by-side on the beach, seeping fuel into the turquoise water; thousands upon thousands of people on a beach barely large enough for a hundred, all vying for a place to lay their towel ¬†without being trampled. I was appalled. I wanted to see the untouched beaches in the pictures, I wanted to float on my back in the pristine water and listen to the calls of birds in the forest, but what I wanted simply doesn’t exist anymore.

It simply cannot last. The fish will disappear if they have not already done so (Patong beach is already devoid of marine life), the water will lose its lustre and it will become impossible to sell Thailand as a tropical paradise. There was a chance all this to change, for the clock to be reset as such. The tsunami in 2004, as horrific as it was, provided an opportunity for a new strategy to be implemented; a strategy that could ensure the longevity of the natural beauty of Phi Phi and still provide the economic benefits that come from tourism. But it didn’t happen and I don’t think it ever will.

It is sad. Sad to think that such a place, and many more like it around the world, is being destroyed simply as a result of people wishing to visit it. Sad that no foresight has gone into creating the system in a manner that takes all aspects into consideration: the environment, the locals, the economy and the tourists. We need to begin to take a step back, look at the impact of what we do and implement the changes necessary to ensure that places like Phi Phi will be around for the next decade and the next century after that. I don’t want to show my children pictures of my trip to Phi Phi and then have to tell them they they needn’t go, because it doesn’t exist anymore.

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