Phuket is overcrowded with tourists

Thailand: the tourist paradise reaches its limit

Thailand: the tourist paradise reaches its limit

Overcrowded airports, closed beaches, exasperated locals: Thailand is suffering from its popularity with tourists. The recent rush of Chinese visitors poses particular problems.

At the beginning of the main travel season in Europe, there was little good news from Thailand: At the beginning of June Maya Beach on the holiday island of Ko Phi Phi was closed. The bay, made famous by the Leonardo di Caprio film “The Beach”, was no longer able to cope with the onslaught of sun-seekers. The speedboats, which brought up to 4,000 visitors a day to the white sandy beach, had thrown up so much sand that the coral reefs underneath were buried and suffocated.

There are also sobering things to be heard from other corners of Thailand: On Phuket, for example, the police felt compelled to send out special patrols to protect tourists from intrusive street vendors.

Infrastructure is reaching its limits

Thailand is a tourist destination that is still growing in popularity. In May of this year, 6.4 percent more visitors came to the land of smiles than in the previous year. But the statistics of the Thai Ministry of Tourism were received with mixed feelings in Bangkok: For most Thais, tourism is now a curse and a blessing at the same time. Tourism is an industry that on the one hand generates around 20 percent of the gross national product, but on the other hand exposes the country's infrastructure and population to constant density stress. Water and electricity providers, the road networks and health facilities are not equipped to cater to hordes of tourists in addition to the 67 million inhabitants of Thailand.

And the hordes are coming: while in 2011 only 16 million curious people came to the former Siam, this year 38 million tourists are expected. Bangkok expects an increase to 60 million in 2030. Even the Thai people, famous for their friendliness, are running out of patience. Conflicts between locals and strangers are increasingly ending in violence. Last year Thailand was branded as one of the most dangerous travel destinations in the world in the annual tourism report of the World Economic Forum. In 118th place out of 136 countries assessed, it landed far behind Sierra Leone, Algeria and Congo.

In order to cope with the onslaught of foreigners, airport operators are also working on expanding passenger capacities. The government is investing 6 billion Swiss francs to expand Bangkok's two airports.

The Thais are particularly angry because more and more Chinese are visiting their country. Every third tourist in Thailand now comes from the People's Republic, with 800,000 Chinese arriving in May alone. They are considered cheap tourists, bully and miser who, apart from their package tour in the country, do not spend a cent.

Resentment against the Chinese is deeply rooted: at the beginning of the 20th century, thousands immigrated to Thailand from southern China. Many newcomers made fortunes which didn't make them more popular. To date, the richest families in Thailand are of Chinese descent. The current onslaught of the Chinese is perceived by many Thais as a threat to their identity. Thailand is the only nation in Southeast Asia that has never been colonized and draws national pride from it.