Chiang Mai has unfortunately become synonymous with a yearly smog
crisis due to rampant agricultural burning in the region. While it
typically dissipates by mid-March, this year's lingering haze has taken a
heavy toll on the local community and tourism sector.
The cultural and tourism hub in northern Thailand was recently ranked
among the world's most polluted cities, prompting officials to advise
locals to stay indoors as hospitals saw a surge in respiratory patients.
As if the health concerns weren't enough, the city's tourism industry
has also suffered a blow. Tourists have altered their travel plans,
avoiding Chiang Mai and opting for destinations like Phuket or Bangkok
Local tour guide Piya Sophakasemsanta said the smog crisis in Chiang
Mai has gotten longer and worse, leading to cancellations of trips here.
“Most tourists would make a stop in Bangkok, then stay in Chiang Mai
for a few nights before spending about a week in Phuket next. But this
year, many have dropped Chiang Mai from their list entirely,” he said.
“Many of my guests said they could not see Doi Suthep from their
hotel rooms anymore," said Piya, referring the iconic mountainous range
that surrounds Chiang Mai but also acts as a natural wall blocking the
smog from dissipating at times.
Drop in hotel occupancy
Like many tourism operators in Chiang Mai, said La-iad Bungsrithong,
board advisor to the Thai Hotels Association, is concerned not just
about the current crisis but about the future of one of Thailand’s most
“Chiang Mai’s occupancy was at 80% throughout January and February,
but with the haze the occupancy in March was lowered to 40%. We think
occupancy would remain the same until the end of April,” he stated. The
low occupancy is expected to extend throughout May and June, the city’s
In other cities, hotel rates have gone up even beyond the 2019 rates, but in Chiang Mai the rates stay low due to soft demand.– La-Iad Bungsrithong, board advisor, Thai Hotels Association
“In other cities, hotel rates have gone up even beyond the 2019
rates, but in Chiang Mai the rates stay low due to soft demand,” she
added. Moreover, spending in Chiang Mai has been affected as people and
tourists prefer to stay indoors.
New hotel openings affected
The smog situation has affected new hotel openings even though La-iad said 80%-90% of hotels have opened compared to pre-Covid.
One of the most-anticipated openings, the InterContinental Chiang Mai
Mae Ping is slated to open for stays from 6 July 2023. However, IHG
Hotels & Resorts has declined to comment on the exact date the hotel
is scheduled to open or whether the smog would delay the opening.
new hotels, including the recently rebranded as the Movenpick
Suriwongse Chiang Mai and Melia Chiang Mai, have opened their doors in
New properties, said Piya, could serve mainly domestic convention
visitors especially in the government sector, with the drop in the
number of foreign and local tourists.
However, the future of Chiang Mai tourism remains unclear if the haze
becomes larger each year, said La-Iad. Domestic airfare is still
considered expensive so industry players need to think of new ways to
keep visitors coming.
“It has been quite tough and Songkran didn’t help boost spending or
travelling in the city. We will just have to find new content and new
markets to keep Chiang Mai tourism going.”