Concern in Thailand: Too Much Private Investment in National Parks

Namtok Pra Charoen National Park waterfall. Photo via Thailand Magic

Editor's note: In an effort to better understand how other countries are protecting their parklands, and to compare and contrast U.S. efforts to those from abroad, Traveler will on occasion run items from beyond U.S. borders. This story involves Thailand's national parks.

Concern over private investment in national parks is not strictly an American issue. In Thailand there are worries that too much private investment is being allowed in that country's parks. The issue cropped up recently when the Marine Science Association of Thailand announced its concern with the encouragement from Natural Resources and Environment Minister Anongwan Thepsuthin for private investment in national parks.

Mr. Thepsuthin, in a story carried by The Nation, maintains that such investment is good not just for tourism, but for the country's overall economy. The Marine Science Association, however, does not share that belief.

"It's against the principles and goals of establishing the national parks," maintains the association's chairman, Padermsak Jarayabhand. "If the government wants private investors to play a role, clear-cut regulations and procedures must be laid down or else natural-resource problems will arise."

Others are concerned that private investments, particularly in the form of tourist boats, could harm efforts to have the Andaman Sea designated a World Heritage Site.

But at Thailand's National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, Deputy Director-General Vichit Phatthanagosai says private concessions within the national parks are operating with the scope of regulations passed back in 2004.

"So far, no investor has built a hotel. Many investors have expressed interest in doing so, but backed off after reading our conditions. We have laid down guidelines that ensure that the investment won't hurt the environment," he said.

Additionally, the deputy director-general believes that, "the higher the number of visitors to national parks, the greater the number of people who are monitoring the conservation of the parks."