Don Mueang Chaos Talks about Thailand Capacity to Deal with Millions of Tourists

The recent chaos last week end at Don Mueang Airport shows that Thailand faces increasingly difficulties to handle properly mass tourism. Mostly due to infrastructure or sites which are not prepared to cope with millions of additional travellers.

Blame or not the immigration at airports in Thailand. For a couple of months now, both Bangkok Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi have hit social media and newspapers’ headlines with horrendous stories of long waiting queues at immigration or security. It generally takes now 45 minutes to over an hour at Suvarnabhumi airport to pass the immigration. It can be even worst at low cost airport in Don Mueang.

Last week end will certainly remain as the epitome of the difficulty faced by Thailand to handle large number of visitors. People had to wait on Friday night up to four hours to just get their passport stamped. Visitors were left stranded at immigration with no waters, no seats, generally no help according to netizens’ complaints…

Following the incident, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha ordered relevant agencies to ensure that long immigration queues at Don Mueang International Airport had to be resolved quickly. He said to have instructed the Immigration Bureau, Airports of Thailand and the Ministry of Transport to prepare contingency plans to deal with situations similar to what occurred last week end.

They are many problems that Thailand as a tourism destination currently faces. The Kingdom offers generally excellent service but they are bottlenecks to it. First airports and transportation. Underinvestments in any kind of transport results increasingly to saturation. The airports of Don Mueang, Suvarnabhumi, Phuket, Chiang Rai or Hat Yai -just to name a few- are totally crowded. Just Suvarnabhumi airport : Bangkok main airport accommodated last year over 57 million passengers for a designated capacity of 45 million passengers. From day 1 of opening, the airport was deemed to small. Same story in Phuket. The new international terminal- opened last year- gave space for 12.5 million passengers. However, in 2016, Phuket already accommodated 15.1 million passengers!

Same story for the skytrain crowded now at any time of the day. More stations are being added while the BTS managing company refuses to add more trains and shorten waiting times between two trains… And there is also the management of large groups of tourists – a consequence among others, of an influx of Chinese travellers, which should reach this year some 12 million tourists.

Authorities should now show more creativity. Like in the case of the Grand Palace which is also suffering from saturation. While most visitors will be able to enter the Grand Palace’s premises, visitors complain increasingly of overcrowded areas due to the high turnover of tourists. So far, they are no plans to extend opening hours or even to offer the possibility to book online with fixed visiting times. Or also to restrict some hours to only individual visitors.  These steps could actually help to reduce queues.

They are also long queues at Vinmanmek Mansion or Asiatique the Riverfront in Bangkok. The Tourism Authority of Thailand is now actively promoting alternative destinations to decongest major tourism sites.

Thailand is expecting to receive between 35 and 37 million tourists this year. All the industry is bundling its muscles for it. However, it should be time for the public administration to be more flexible and work more to coordinate action together.

Recently the Bangkok Post quoted PATA CEO Mario Hardy, who pointed that the lack of collaboration between various governmental agencies was part of the problem. “We will reach 36 million this year and it is not that far away before we reach that 40 million, so what we experience at the airport is nothing compared to what will be experienced in a few years”.

Planning should be done now ahead and not after problems occur as it has been so far the case.