Covid-19 pandemic has brought a “break” for nature in popular tourist destinations. However, not everyone is satisfied with this.
The beaches are filled with sunbathers. The bay is crowded with boats and divers. On the street, people and tourists crowded around. That’s the scene in most Southeast Asian countries now.
After 2 years of being ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic, the tourism industry has returned. The return of tourism is like a lifeline for the economy. However, it also comes with a hefty price tag.
Need to give nature rest
The Covid-19 pandemic has undeniably paralyzed Southeast Asia’s $393 billion tourism industry. It caused millions of people to lose their jobs and many other terrible losses. However, the pandemic has given nature a rest after a long time of being “squeezed”.
Liz Ortiguera, CEO of the Asia Pacific Travel Association, a non-profit that advocates for sustainable tourism, said: “The industry has changed. There are many governments that want to minimize it. However, when the pandemic is near, they consider the types of tourism that damage the ecosystem as permissible.”
Maya Bay (Thailand) is crowded with tourists.
Across Southeast Asia, countries are promoting indiscriminate tourism, according to Ortiguera, despite many scientists warning of the irreversible effects on the environment. Meanwhile, those who live off revenue from tourists are wanting the industry to recover “fast”. They need tourists as much as possible.
Everyone thinks about economic benefits but ignores the good things for nature during the pandemic. In 2020, just a month after Thailand closed the border, a school of dugongs – the world’s most endangered marine mammal – was leisurely swimming off the southern coast.
In Phuket, a popular resort, leatherback turtles come to “occupy” the beach to nest. The number of turtles surprised local scientists as well.
Varawut Silpa-archa, Thailand’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, told The Washington Post: “In a way, the pandemic is a great opportunity. It shows the good things when people let natural rest”.
Turtles nest on the beach in Phuket during the pandemic.
In 2020, Thailand will close all 155 nature parks to visitors. When the parks were reopened in July, Silpa-archa ordered all parks closed for at least one month each year. He also banned single-use plastics in parks. The minister added that he would not hesitate to close a destination for a long time if tourists continue to “destroy” nature.
“I don’t mind the objections of businesses. Frankly, I don’t care if they agree or not. My job is to preserve nature for our future generations,” he shared.
Not everyone wants to rest in nature
Not all efforts to rest nature are successful, though. In June, the Indonesian government faced fierce opposition from locals when it proposed to limit visitors to the ancient temple of Borobodur in Java. They propose to only let 15 people in at a time, and the ticket price for foreigners will increase from 25 USD to 100 USD. The cost will be used for conservation.
When the government announced its plan to increase ticket prices to Komodo National Park in East Nusa Tenggara, hundreds of employees went on strike. The plan went bust and both of these spots were kept at the same fare.
“There’s too much sunken investment and that’s the big challenge,” said Steven Schipani, a tourism industry expert at the Asian Development Bank.
The number of tourists to Southeast Asia annually doubled between 2010 and 2019, peaking just before the pandemic of 137 million. This growth is expected to continue at least until 2030. The reason is that the middle class in the region is on the rise. Businesses and government agencies have invested heavily to prepare and profit from this group of tourists.
Not all efforts to “re-adjust” tourism have received a response.
In 2019, nearly 40 million tourists visited Thailand. Many people choose to stop at the south coast. However, studies show that between 2017 and 2019, at least two spots in the south, Patong Beach and Maya Bay, were “overcrowded” with tourists. This means that the number of visitors is already too high for “reasonable capacity” to not harm nature.
Somyot Sarapong, who works for an ecotourism agency in Bangkok, lived and worked on the Phi Phi Islands in the 1990s. By 2003 he had left. At this time, businesses outside the island began to build a series of hotels on the beach, replacing the locally managed resorts.
In 2019, when Sarapong returned to Phi Phi Island to visit friends, he didn’t realize where he once thought was heaven. The colorful, beautiful fish on the island is almost no longer visible. However, earlier this year, when he returned to the island again (before Thailand reopened its borders to international visitors), he encountered a school of blackhead sharks. This is a very rare species that appeared around the island before the pandemic.
“It gave me a feeling of a Phi Phi in the early days,” he shared.
Like many countries in Southeast Asia, Thailand lacks kind of regulations on planning, land use and hotel licensing. These are the factors that help the government effectively manage the impact of tourism.
But Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a marine scientist at Kasetsart University (Bangkok), thinks the country’s tourism industry still has reason to be optimistic.
“When you’re driving at a very high speed, it’s very difficult to slow down. With Covid-19, it’s as if the car’s engine is stopping. Now, we’re starting over. Thailand’s tourism industry can Go carefully, slowly,” he shared.
@ Zing News