This photo taken on April 9, 2018 shows a crowd of tourists on the Maya Bay beach, on the southern Thai island of Koh Phi Phi. Across the region, Southeast Asia's once-pristine beaches are reeling from decades of unchecked tourism as governments scramble to confront trash-filled waters and environmental degradation without puncturing a key economic driver. / AFP PHOTO / Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / TO GO WITH AFP STORY "THAILAND-INDONESIA-PHILIPPINES-TOURISM-ENVIRONMENT" by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA with Joe FREEMAN (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)

The Tourism and Sports Ministry is working with the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) to cap the number of visitors at natural destinations in a bid to promote more sustainable tourism.

The two bodies have signed a memorandum of understanding to apply science, technology and innovation to set national guidelines for tourism carrying capacity in three types of areas: mountains, seas and cultural/historical sites.

Initially, eight destinations will serve as pilot projects in important tourism areas such as the Andaman Sea, the Gulf of Thailand, the Mekong and Chao Phraya rivers and the Lanna region.

Setting the number of people visiting a tourist destination, at the same time, could help conserve natural destinations and help the tourism industry, which has played a vital role in the economy, said Chote Trachu, the tourism permanent secretary.

“On the other hand, tourism also creates a negative impact on the environment and this is the most urgent issue to solve, because the environment and the economy have to develop equally to create sustainability,” he said.

Under the cooperation, NSTDA staff will go on field trips and evaluate the ecological impact on each destination and designate the maximum number of tourists at each site. It will take about one year to study the carrying capacity and draw up the costs for preservation of the sites.

President Narong Sirilertworakul said the NSTDA will apply the global standard framework of the World Tourism Organization, called Tourism Satellite Account-System of Environmental Economic Accounting, when assessing each destination. This method helps promote sustainability in tourism and contribute to ecological development as stated by the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The four-year cooperation of the two organizations will run through the end of 2021. The finalized data will be updated on the Tourism and Sports Ministry’s online platforms, the Tourism Intelligence Center and the Thailand Tourism Directory.

The plan to limit the number of visitors at natural sites has emerged as the second policy issued by Chote, formerly the permanent secretary of the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry. Last month, he announced the hiring of Naresuan University to study the feasibility of collecting a tourism levy from foreign visitors and using the income for rehabilitation of natural destinations.

Besides having the university study the plan, Chote has also instructed the Tourism Department to hold discussions with tourism stakeholders and devise an appropriate fee. He gave assurances that the amount of the levy would be small, at no more than 100 baht per visitor.