Dwellings were damaged or destroyed. Natural resources — coral reefs, beaches, mangrove areas and freshwater aquifers — sustained extensive damage. Also hard-hit was public infrastructure, such as fish and shrimp farms, landfills, and wastewater systems. Rebuilding and recovery have been uneven and slow. Tourist areas with casualty-insured facilities are recovering the fastest, while local settlements with little insurance coverage and unclear property rights are slow to rebuild.
In most areas, the focus is on near-term recovery rather than long-term issues. But broader questions need answers — what role should tourism play in Southern Thailand? What should be the balance between environmental protection and cultural preservation and the economic benefits of tourism activities?
In February 2005, the University of California at Berkeley, Chulalongkorn University, and the Thai Public Policy Foundation formed a partnership to provide technical assistance to help shape long-term strategic planning in the Andaman coastal region. The project began when Chote Soponpanich, President of the Thai Public Policy Foundation, contacted Chancellor Robert Birgeneau of UC Berkeley to ask how the university could provide technical assistance for tsunami relief. Building on a previously successful partnership between the Thai Public Policy Foundation, UC Berkeley’s Department of City and Regional Planning and Goldman School of Public Policy, and Chulalongkorn University Social Science Research Institute, the three institutions decided to work together. Short-term humanitarian aid was abundant, so the team envisioned a project focusing on long-term strategic planning for tourism, given the needs of the impacted tourist areas and the partners’ combined expertise.
During the week of March 21-25, 2005 the partners visited three provinces — Phuket, Krabi and Phang Nga — assessing conditions and defining the project. They met with local elected officials, planners, and community leaders, conducting interviews and visiting tsunami-inundated areas, where they assessed local technical capacity, surveyed the scale of international humanitarian assistance activities, and gauged the level of interest of each of the provinces in receiving long-term strategic planning assistance. In Bangkok the partners also met with government officials to learn about ongoing planning activities.
Based on these field visits and discussions with Chulalongkorn faculty and the Thai Public Policy Foundation Board of Directors, the partnership agreed to concentrate efforts on Krabi Province, developing an overall strategic framework, focusing on sustainable tourism development, community development and income generation, and regional level infrastructure needs. In addition, the partnership agreed to develop an active community participation process to engage stakeholders and reflect their views in the final product.
On May 23, 2005 in Bangkok, 20 graduate students and six faculty from Chulalongkorn and Berkeley met to form the project team. Participants had backgrounds in city planning, architecture, government, and landscape architecture. After briefings, the team traveled to Krabi Province to begin the project. From May 26 to June 4, they met with local government officials, business leaders, community groups and tourists, then on June 5 returned to Bangkok to prepare the strategic plan and presentation.
Tourism’s rapid expansion in southern Thailand provides economic benefits for many, but affects many facets of daily life. In Krabi Province, tourism’s pluses can drive the region’s development and growth, creating jobs and generating local government revenues. Tourism’s minuses include environmental degradation, social dependency, underdevelopment, and adverse socio-cultural effects, especially for rural populations. The tsunami’s aftermath offers the opportunity to assess benefits and costs of tourism, and to reframe a tourism strategy that is environmentally sustainable, economically productive, and socially acceptable.
Stakeholder meetings, informal interviews, and extensive fieldwork throughout the province allowed researchers to collect both qualitative and quantitative data on the province’s existing conditions. The team identified issues surrounding sustainable tourism development, environmental protection, community development, income generation, and regional level infrastructure needs. Back in Bangkok, the team used a strategic planning and scenario assessment method to assess tourism strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and to consider possible future strategies.
The region’s rebuilding provides a unique opportunity to develop long-term strategies for guiding future development. The resulting Strategic Plan for Sustainable Tourism Development in Krabi Province discusses the direct and indirect economic, social, and environmental linkages between the distinct sectors and stakeholder groups within the province and shows how their activities may affect Krabi Province’s future.
In describing the approach and method of the project, the Strategic Plan provides a general overview of Krabi Province, and discusses tourism trends from international, national, regional and provincial perspectives. The report also presents a vision of sustainable tourism, an assessment of the province’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (a SWOT analysis), and three tourism strategies. Then, using a scenario planning process, each strategy’s likely performance is evaluated. Finally, the report summarizes the results of the scenario analysis and proposes a range of implementation options for consideration. In addition, it outlines the next steps that should be taken to achieve sustainable tourism in Krabi Province.
The Strategic Plan differs from, and complements existing, national, regional and provincial plans in several important ways. First, alternative tourism strategies are tested against external scenarios to gauge resiliency. Second, communities and residents are viewed as main drivers behind tourism management and planning, not just as economic stakeholders. Third, tourism is viewed not as a sector in and of itself, but in the broader context of the province’s whole economy, with tourists as integral stakeholders, not just a source of external demand.
Researchers developed three distinct tourism strategies: Krabi Riviera, Krabi Highlights and Krabi Discovery. Krabi Riviera is a market-led laissez faire approach emphasizing mass tourism. Krabi’s beaches and islands become the main draw for tourism activity, with most development occurring along the coast, concentrating on large coastal resorts and supporting facilities. Fragile ecological areas such as mangrove forests, wetlands, and other critical habitat open to development of resorts, hotels, and other tourist amenities, taking precedence over the quality of tourism and community life.
Krabi Highlights, a government-led strategy promoting nodal development with greater local linkages, features six nodes, or locations, for tourism development. Each node becomes a hub for a particular niche market, such as eco-, cultural, and religious tourism, providing visitors with differing experiences. The government proactively promotes and encourages promotion and a combination of measures to encourage development in desired locations and limits tourism elsewhere.
Krabi Discovery is a community-led strategy emphasizing fine-grain development. Local-self governments in the more popular destinations treat the tourism market as a driver of community development, placing priority on the promotion of community-based economic development while taking readings from the tourist market, rather than trying to explicitly satisfy market demands. Chief stakeholders are local communities, which define the scope and scale of tourism development and participate actively in tourism planning and implementation, while the central and provincial governments facilitate the community empowerment through the provision of loans, infrastructure, marketing of tourism in the rest of the country and abroad, and coordinates the creation of pilot programs to experiment with different niches and activities.
To test the future likely performance of the strategies, the team created three external scenarios — Global Boom, Global Median and Global Downturn. Global Boom posits maximum economic growth, social cohesion and environmental stability, in which worldwide economies grow at above average rates and average incomes increase. Greater disposable incomes mean greater global demand for tourism, and Thailand captures an increasing share of both domestic and international tourist markets. Thailand improves in both social and political realms, with the Thai people achieving higher levels of education and training. Human factors bolster the overall strength of the nation and the region. Environmental factors, both natural and manmade, are stable and positive, water supply is sufficient, and there are no new environmental problems or risks.
The next scenario, Global Median, builds on current global and regional trends, with average economic performance, a steady sociopolitical state, and some environmental threats. Growth is moderate and capital is not as readily available as under the Boom scenario, but Thailand grabs an increasing share of that growth, though with less demand for specific types of niche tourism. Sociopolitical situations remain much the same, however, environmental factors present some problems at global and national levels, with water shortages, industrial pollution and continued global warming leading to moderately rising sea levels.
Global Downturn is the last scenario, a pessimistic projection of economic stagnation, social conflict, and environmental trauma. Under this scenario, external conditions follow the Global Boom trends until 2015, at which point economic, sociopolitical, and environmental threats are realized, severely affecting the tourism industry. A stagnant or declining global economy precipitates a decline in Asian economies, with negative effects on domestic and international tourism, as well as demand for niche tourist activities. Sociopolitical strife escalates, collaborative intervention from foreign powers increases tension and upsets traditional ways of life. The environment suffers, with severe droughts affecting some areas, while dramatically rising sea levels impact Thailand’s coastlines.
The results of the scenario analysis indicate that Krabi’s natural environment will come under significant pressure if the Krabi Riviera strategy is pursued and driven by the Global Boom scenario. Alternatively, the other strategies pose less risk to the environment regardless of which external environment occurs in the future. However, the results of the scenario analysis do not suggest that one strategy is best. Each strategy offers a distinct set of benefits and costs that need to be carefully considered as the community thinks about and plans its future tourism industry.