6 Uncomfortable Truths About Traveling in Southeast Asia
1. An estimated 70% of all money spent by tourists in Thailand ends up leaving the country.
A study by Sustainable Living found that over two-thirds of tourism revenue ends up not in the hands of local Thai population, but instead in the pockets of foreign-owned tour operators, airlines, hotels, etc. Only a third actually goes towards the local economy. Known as tourism “leakage,” this phenomenon occurs when tourists choose foreign-owned tourist companies, resorts, and all-inclusive packages instead of operators working within the country.
2. The Full Moon parties on Ko Phangan alone produce around 12 tons of trash per day.
The documentary Trouble in Paradise, created by two travelers in the region, depicted the incredible waste generated through the infamous Full Moon Parties (and now also Half-Moon Parties) that occur each month on Haad Rin beach. Astonishingly, trash cans were only introduced to the beach in 2011, meaning most of the waste of the last few decades of celebration drifted mostly into the ocean. Even now, trash bins overflow, and excess plastic cups, straws, and bags clutter the beach post-party.
3. One quarter of Boracay Island in the Philippines is owned by outside corporations.
A study by the Overseas Development Institute showed how extreme the issue of foreign development has affected the Philippines. As in many resort destinations, local residents have been pushed out due to privatization and rising prices. In Bali, agricultural land was diverted to build large hotels and golf courses. In Java, beach land previously used by villages for grazing, boat-repair, and festivals, was also sold to make room for a five-star hotel.
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4. An average golf course in a tropical country such as Thailand uses as much water as 60,000 rural villagers.
According to a report by the organization Tourism Concern, golf course maintenance can cause highly damaging effects on Southeast Asia’s environment. The constant watering of expansive lawns depletes the area’s water resources. Even worse, these luxury golf resorts are often located near areas where resources are already limited for locals, making their impact even more detrimental. The large amount of fertilizers and pesticides can also cause environmental concerns: an average golf course in the country requires 1500 kg of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides per year.
5. Between 2007 and 2010, children accounted for about 40% of all trafficking victims in South and South-East Asia and the Pacific, a larger percentage than found in any other region.
This statistic came from a 2012 report by the UN Organisation on Drugs and Crime. A study published by John Hopkins University in 2007 also estimated that in the Philippines alone, between 60,000 and 75,000 children were exploited in the country’s commercial sex industry that year. In Thailand, reports estimated that there were as many as 60,000 children involved in prostitution in that same year.
Unfortunately, tourists and foreigners often financially support child-trafficking through forms of sex tourism. ECPAT, an organization that aims to fight child sex tourism, reported UNICEF research in Vietnam that interviewed 37 child victims of prostitution and internal sex trafficking. 76% of these children reported having had a foreign “customer.” Though stereotypes often depict sex tourists as American and European men, ECPAT International’s Global Monitoring Reports found that domestic and regional travelers from more developed countries in the region (ex: Australia, China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan) actually constituted the largest group of sexual offenders encouraging the child-sexual tourism circuit.
6. Though tourists often speak about travel as a way of experiencing new cultures, one survey found that most travelers in Southeast Asia spend at least 85% of their time with other travelers, rather than locals.
In 2013, Pegi Vail, an American anthropologist and professor at New York University, released her documentary Gringo Trails depicting the negative impacts of mass tourism on a destination’s culture and environment, focusing often specifically on Southeast Asia. In her research, she conducted a survey asking who backpackers primarily interact with while traveling in the region. The disappointing result? The overwhelming majority stick to their own clan. The sad reality is that many travelers never truly leave their comfort zone while “exploring,” but instead stay in a tight-knit backpacker bubble as they move from place to place.