Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

9 Aug, 2021

Phuket is facing the wrath of Karma

BANGKOK – The cause-and-effect laws of Karma are fundamental to Buddhism and many other Asian ways of life. As you sow, so shall you reap, perhaps not immediately but many years later or even in the next life.

Today, they are being proved right, big time.

When the rampant “development” of Phuket began in the 1980s and skyrocketed after 1987 Visit Thailand Year, there was no shortage of early warnings by journalists, NGOs, environmentalists and social scientists about the uncontrolled and chaotic Gold Rush.

Policy-makers, politicians, businessmen, bureaucrats and investors, clucked sympathetically. But it did not deviate them from their real objective, viz., to drive growth and numbers — GDP, GNP, investment and jobs. The sexy stuff.

As the Asia-Pacific region’s leading Travel & Tourism historian, I am reproducing these meticulously preserved headlines as a stark reminder of that imbalanced failure for the people of Thailand and indeed, the global Travel & Tourism industry.

The laws of Karma are closely related to the causes of suffering, which are also being proved right. No Sandbox schemes nor textbook crisis management campaigns will avert that certainty. The generation of the late 20th century made the calls. The generation of the early 21st century is paying the price.

The three-month Buddhist Lent has just begun, when monks retreat to the temples to meditate and reflect. The Thai, ASEAN and Asia-Pacific tourism industries should be doing the same about its past, present and future.

But it will not happen. The laws of economic development neither recognise nor respect the laws of Karma. Which is why we keep lurching from one crisis to the next.

Indeed, the next crisis is already on the horizon. Over the next few months, hundreds of bankrupt tourism enterprises will be sold, many to foreigners and their local proxies, at dirt cheap fire-sale prices. Then, the Golden Rule will kick in. Those who have the gold will want to make the rules. They will control not just the companies but the entire island, and beyond.

That financial ownership shift is fraught with social, political and cultural risks. As money talks, the writing is already on the wall.

Travel & Tourism marketing brochures proudly brandish the Buddhist way of life to attract tourists. If the Thai and the Asia Pacific Travel & Tourism industries want to really Build Back Better and Convert a Crisis into an Opportunity, the time to indulge in some old-fashioned soul-searching about our past mistakes is now here.

If we do not practise what we preach, our children and grand-children will pay the price, just as we are doing today.