Indonesian Forest Fires: Asia’s tourism sector up in flames


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The haze over Singapore. Photograph: Charles Collier via Flickr

Uncontrolled destruction is raging across Asia.

Indonesian forest fires – started to clear land for palm oil and paper products – have escalated into one of the biggest environmental disasters in years. Started in the peatland forests of Kalimantan and Sumatra, these man-made fires have produced a wealth of toxic fumes and smog. This has engulfed the once beautiful country, and fires continue to destroy a host of natural habitats.

They have also affected the everyday lives of people not just in Indonesia, where vulnerable groups are already being evacuated, but across neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore. Events have been cancelled in both countries, and they have also reported school closures and transportation disruptions. Global warming has also been dramatically impacted, with Greenpeace warning that the fires are on track to produce more carbon emissions than the total annual UK output.

So what does this mean for tourism?

With South East Asia being a popular tourist hotspot, the affects of these fires have a potentially huge impact upon tourism revenue for not just Indonesia, but the whole continent. It is revenue that the lives of thousands of citizens rely upon, and the continent as a whole requires to survive.

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Koh Samui viewpoint before the fires. Photograph:

The South of Thailand has reportedly been hit hardest, with the fog making many areas dark, foggy and outright dangerous. The UK Foreign Office currently states: “Areas of Southern Thailand, including Phuket, have experienced poor air quality as a result of haze in the region. This can cause disruption to local and regional air travel, and may have an impact on public health. You should monitor local advice if you’re travelling in the area”.
Backpackers have been warned by Thai tourism authorities that the smog poses a very real health risk, which will undoubtedly make people reluctant to travel there. A record number of flights have also already been cancelled, with visibility being too impaired for landing, meaning anyone who does want brave the trip will have a hard time getting there.

December sees the most activity in Thai tourism, with people flocking in from across the globe. If the situation does not improve soon, this could have devastating affects, as the loss of revenue will hit the already weak Thai economy hard. Phuket is one of the most popular tourist hotspots of the country, and nearby Koh Samui has also reportedly suffered badly. Once boasting picturesque beaches and clear skies, these areas have been clouded with haze and smog, which due to slow moving Thai winds does not appear to be clearing any time soon.

Indonesia have recently agreed to accept international help to put out the fires, and they hope the situation will soon be salvaged. Irreversible damage has already been done to the precious environments and habitats within Indonesia – hopefully South East Asia’s tourism sector will fare better.

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