Thailand Approves New Airports in Chiang Mai and Phuket

Airports of Thailand has approved the construction of second airports for Chiang Mai and Phuket to accommodate more tourism arrivals.

The decision came in the same week as the closure of Maya Bay, one of the country’s most popular destinations, due to overtourism.

The second Chiang Mai airport will be located in Lamphun’s Ban Thi district, while the Phuket airport will be developed in Phang Nga’s Ban Khok Kruad district. The two airports, which will serve an extra 10 million visitors, are expected to cost 120 million Baht in total, with construction starting next year and slated completion for 2025.

The decision reflects Thailand’s tourism dilemma. The tourism industry accounted for 9.2 percent of Thailand’s GDP, a number that is expected to increase to 14.3 percent by 2027 by the World Travel & Tourism Council. There were 3.5 million travellers that passed through immigration at the Phuket International Airport, a 19 percent rise from the same period last year.

However, this tourism boom comes at a cost. Maya Bay, which rose to fame after the release of Leonardo Dicaprio flick The Beach in 2000, is closed to tourists for four months starting June 1 due to poor conditions and coral reef damage.

Telegraph Travel expert Lee Cobaj regretted AOT’s decision to build more airports in the busy districts.

“It’s disappointing to see that the Thai government’s response to rampant overtourism is to upgrade the airports at two of Thailand’s busiest entry points rather than focussing on sustainable less-damaging approach to its rapidly-increasing visitor numbers,” Cobaj said.

“Much of Phuket has already been concreted over, with ugly buildings, and little planning or concern for the environment. Without a radical new approach from the military junta, I would expect that long empty golden beaches of Phang Nga and Khao Lak will share the same fate.”