Thailand — Smoke and haze in North Thailand is troubling residents, but tourism officials are divided on the impact it will have on bookings to popular destinations such as Chiang Mai during the up-coming Songkran festival mid-April.
The Chiang Mai Guide Association president, Samrit Haikum, said although Chiang Mai was still experiencing haze with dust particles exceeding the safety margin of 120 micrograms per cubic metre, there was no evidence that domestic tourism would take a beating during the Songkran holiday.
Domestic holiday makers understand that the haze problem is temporary and that it will be resolved, said Mr Samrit.
The main Songkran travel period is two weeks away and officials are hoping the situation could improve dramatically if there are rain storms and strong winds.
Mr Samrit noted that the haze is hazardous for elderly travellers with respiratory problems and they may cancel their trips, but younger, healthy travellers should have no problems.
Thailand is not the only country that faces a haze problem. A high-pressure front from China is trapping smoke and haze from forest and paddy fires across Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Malaysia.
He believes that once rain and thunderstorms arrive, possibly next week, the situation will clear up by mid-April.
Presenting the opposite viewpoint, Chiang Mai Tourism Council secretary, Udom Sidnayee, said the ongoing haze problem would cut tourist arrivals to the province by half if nothing was done to resolve the issue.
To solve the problem, related organisations have to end the burning as quickly a possible and hope that the rains will start early and clear the atmosphere.
Farmers fire the paddy fields annually to prepare the land for the next crop. Bamboo forests too are burned and this regenerates and speeds up the growth of new bamboo. The practice is carried out across Mekong Region countries and is part of the farming culture and traditional practices.
In some areas, villagers cut and burn forest to clear hillsides for market gardening and fruit plantations, prompted by an improved economy and tourism. This year, the high price of rice due to the floods in Thailands central plains encouraged northern farmers to grow two crops of rice. That prompted more burning than usual to prepare for a second harvest.