With the announcement of the new law in Thailand to ban smoking on some of their top tourist beaches, the issue of responsible tourism can’t help but be thrown into the spotlight. Having been to Thailand this summer it was shocking to see the impact tourists have on once culturally rich and beautiful places.
Going to Thailand you expect idyllic beaches and lush jungles, which you get of course, but this is often tainted by litter and over westernised bars and restaurants. This begs the question- is tourism displacing culture and beauty? The decision to ban smoking on beaches is, in my opinion, a step in the right direction to restore these places of natural beauty but more needs to be done to tackle the problem of litter as well as drunk tourists in the street. I went to Thailand with no real knowledge of Thai culture and with no preconceptions so when I got there I was surprised that some parts of Thailand seemed to try to be Western countries like England. Even just going to a beach bar you’d think it’d be a relaxed environment but with EDM blasting from all other sides of the beach and tourists off their faces screaming along it was clear that we tourists had diluted Thai culture to suit what we ‘wanted’.
When thinking of Thailand, you can’t help but picture someone fresh out of college taking a very predictable gap year to ‘find themselves’ but what they’re actually finding is far from Thai culture. Closer to the sort of thing you’d see in Malia or Zante, the really touristy areas of Thailand such as Koh Phi Phi and Phuket are overrun with bars and nightclubs which of course means they’re overrun with litter and vomit. Whilst there is a 20-baht charge to enter Koh Phi Phi this is clearly insufficient for the level of upkeep that’s needed. So why do tourists go to other countries disregard the locals and instead focus on having a good time even at the cost of respecting the land? This is where the issue of ethical and responsible tourism clearly need to be addressed.
The Thai government are moving forward in solving this issue not only with the smoking ban but also with measures such as the one in Chiang Mai where it is illegal to have a club or bar open past midnight. The difference this makes is surprisingly significant with Chiang Mai being one of the cities in Thailand which showcase a mix of history and culture without cigarette butts or empty cans of Chang.
So, although the issue of smoking on beaches may seem of little significance when there is so much else going on in the world the underlying issues of responsible tourism are pivotal to talk about if we keep wanting to explore other countries.
(Image courtesy of The Independent)