Tourism affected as Chiang Mai chokes on toxic PM dust

MONDAY, APRIL 08, 2024

Songkran in Chiang Mai is unlikely to be as lively as expected. The fault lies with a surplus of PM 2.5 dust, which is having a negative effect on tourist confidence, especially among Thais.

Nonetheless, the Thai Hotel Association hopes the average occupancy rate during the festival will reach 60-75% even though bookings are still only at 50%.

La-iad Bungsrithong, general manager of Ratilanna Riverside Spa Resort in Chiang Mai and a consultant to the Thai Hotel Association (THA), said that the overall atmosphere during the lead-up to the Songkran festival was subdued but not entirely quiet. This assessment is based on the feedback from Thai tourists, who constitute a significant group during the festival in the Northern capital. The reasons given include reduced confidence due to the PM 2.5 dust issue and the high prices of flights.

It remains to be seen how the additional special flights being laid on by various airlines will affect last-minute travel decisions for Thai tourists. Campaigns launched by other countries to attract Thai tourists to travel abroad will likely contribute to a decrease in Thai tourists celebrating Songkran in the North, La-iad warned.

Tourism affected as Chiang Mai chokes on toxic PM dust

"In the past few years, the Songkran Festival in Chiang Mai has been held from April 13-15 with various activities. However, this year it is extended from April 7-17. Due to shorter promotional communication, tourists may take longer to decide. Currently, hotel bookings in Chiang Mai during Songkran are hovering around 50%. If they can increase to 60-75% during April 13-15 or throughout April 7-17, it would be satisfactory for business operators," La-iad said.

She added that despite some progress in addressing the PM 2.5 dust issue, it remains a challenge with no real solution in sight. This is due to issues with forest ecosystem management, hotspots in certain areas, and the need for coordinated supervision across districts, neighbouring provinces, and even neighbouring countries.

"One thing I'd like to see in the future is improved communication, knowledge sharing, and cooperation from all sectors. The government itself needs to closely monitor and track the outcomes continuously to reduce the impact of PM 2.5 dust effectively year by year," she said.

‘Clean air is something everyone desires, not just tourists but also the entire society. It can drive the economy and tourism by promoting the Northern region as an area with good air quality, which will encourage year-round tourism, especially in the Thai market, which is the most sensitive," La-iad added.

Overall average hotel occupancy rate in Chiang Mai province for March was initially estimated at around 65-70%. However, the latest figures suggest it may only be around 50-55%.

La-iad stressed that PM 2.5 pollution is considered a pain point for the tourism sector in Chiang Mai, posing a challenge for business operators. During periods of high pollution, they try to communicate with tourists on how to manage their activities, such as staying indoors in the morning and going outside in the afternoon when the air quality improves. They also distribute face masks and provide various preventive measures. While these are considered interim solutions, hotel operators are always looking for ways to cope with the situation.