Thailand CHIANG MAI, 29 March 2017: The annual smog, or smoke haze, is turning into a major deterrent persuading travellers to scratch North Thailand off their travel plans, according to the Economics Research and Agricultural Forecasting Centre (Maejo Poll).
Released last week, the research focused on 1,015 Thai travellers who had visited Chiang Mai during 20 February to 5 March this year.
72.88% of interviewees said they had experience severe haze, while 27.12% said they had not been aware of it when visiting Chiang Mai.
All provinces in North Thailand introduced an anti-burning campaign that became effective 20 February and continues until after the Songkran festival, 20 April.
A wider agreement on ending annual burning and the haze crisis across the region was signed by ASEAN nations last January. In the context of the North Thailand haze, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar signed an agreement to introduce a ban.
In Thailand, anyone caught burning waste, rice fields or forest land, faces a fine of up to THB20,000. Villages across the region are warned daily via early morning loudspeaker announcements that they face arrest and heavy fines. The campaign has been largely successful at village level.
However by mid-March the haze did intensify and visits to the border area along the Mekong River in Chiang Rai province revealed considerable rice field burning.
Prevailing winds pushed the haze from Laos across Chiang Rai province reducing visibility. There is considerable evidence that smoke from rice field burning in Myanmar reached Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son provinces.
As for the 60-days no burning campaign, 55.73% of the people polled said they know about the campaign while 44.27% said they have no idea about it at all.
Hotels across the north have felt the impact in lost bookings extending through to May.
According to the poll, 61.23% believed the campaign would help to reduce haze, while 20.20% said they believed it would not help as the problem occurs every year and the penalty for violators was not serious enough. 18.52% said they were not sure.
The poll noted that 95.37% of respondents believed the haze problem impacted on their decision to travel to Chiang Mai, while 4.63% claimed the problem had no impact.
More importantly the haze impacts annually on the health of residents and the campaign was a direct response to that issue.
Questioned on causes, 41.98% believed haze was caused by burning fields and forests (35.05%), wildfires (9.4%), burning household waste (6.24%), fires originated in neighbouring countries (4.75%) and industrial pollution (2.57%).
55.49% also said the haze problem would impact on local peoples health, 38.28% said it would damage tourism and 6.23% said it impact on road transport and safety.
67.74% recommended that related sectors should campaign and create awareness for people to stop burning by tightening the law and penalties.
Each year Chiang Mai suffers smog and haze and most of it is blamed on farmers who use traditional slash and burn agricultural clearing techniques. They also burn the rice fields to prepare them for a second or third planting.
Maejo University in Chiang Mai is the oldest agricultural institution in the country.