Last updated: 07:04 PM ET, Sat October 24 2015

Indonesian Forest Fire Haze Impacting Thai Tourism

Impacting Travel | Michael Isenbek | October 24, 2015

Indonesian Forest Fire Haze Impacting Thai Tourism

Photo via Twitter/SuchatPK

Nearly two months of illegal slash-and-burn farming fires in Indonesia have led to a choking haze settling over southern Thailand, sickening the populace, canceling flights and affecting the vital tourism industry, AFP reported.

"It's considered a crisis. It's the worst in 10 years," Halem Jemarican, head of Songkhla province’s Environment Office, said to AFP.

"The key factor is the wind. It's strong at the hot spot origins but when it reaches Thailand the winds weaken so the haze stays around for longer," he added.

Usually an annual issue for Malaysia and Singapore, prevailing winds carried the smog further north.

Thai officials told AFP that air quality was at unhealthy levels in seven southern provinces late last week, with the worst readings in Songkhla province.

AFP pointed out that poor Indonesian villagers are feeling the effects; with locals in such places as central Palangkaraya going about their daily lives enveloped in a hazardous haze.

Visibility in the air also suffers due to the smog.

Late Thursday an official from the airport on the Indonesian resort island of Koh Samui, said to AFP that "all flights had been canceled since 10 a.m. because of the haze."

A number of planes filled with beachgoing tourists headed to Phuket and Koh Samui were turned back by the haze in early October, AFP said.

AFP noted Southern Thailand’s status as a popular tourist destination with “many pristine beaches.”

Deutsche Welle (DW) further examined the haze’s impact on Thai tourism. Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific Chief Economist at global analytics firm IHS, told the international broadcaster, "December is a crucial peak season for the Thai tourism industry, and if the haze continues during November, it could affect tourism bookings as tourists try to avoid the haze-affected tourism destinations in Southeast Asia.”

DW did say that in addition to the cancellations and diversions of tourist flights, tour operators are seeing vacations being canceled.

Boat navigation difficulties in parts of Satun and Phangnga are being reported, DW said. "This is a big issue as shipping tourists around Ao Phangnga (Phangnga Bay) is an important source of income, Siegfried Herzog, head of the regional office of the German foundation Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung in Bangkok told DW. “As we are on the tail end of the rainy season, its low season for tourism so the impact is not that big yet, but if the problem persists it will be painful," he added.

Thailand’s Pollution Control Department "called for Indonesia to implement measures to reduce burning in order to mitigate haze," AFP said.

To fight the fires, Thailand’s interior ministry is ready to seed the clouds to “trigger artificial rain,” AFP said, after Indonesia sought international help earlier in October when they failed to put out the fire over a span of weeks.

AFP said in the past week, dozens of planes and thousands of personnel have been trying to put out the flames.


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