Thailand’s THE BEACH closed indefinitely

A couple of weeks ago, the white sandy beach of Maya Bay was closed indefinetely by the authorities of Thailand. The reason, mass tourism. As simple as that. The magic scenery made famous thanks, or because of, the Leonardo DiCaprio movie “The Beach” was literally wrecked by the continuous flow of incoming tourists since it was shot to fame by the movie.

Maya Bay was recorded to be the most popular tourist destination in Thailand over the past years receiving up to 5000 tourists and 200 boats a day. While the great affluence of tourists has considerably supported the local economy in the short term, it has seemingly damaged the location in the long term. Focusing on the short-term gains, the Thai government did not take action to protect the area despite increasing evidence of the negative impact of mass tourism in this area. It is true that the activity was generating approx. 12M$ per year, however the focus on short-term monetary gains is currently destabilizing the whole area.

After multiple years of hesitating to take action, the Thai government made a strong stand by closing the bay indefinitely to protect the area. A blunt and courageous move that is rare in today’s politics and it shows the consideration for the long-term sustainability of the area. Refusing the sirens of short-term gains towards longer-term benefits. We all know the story of the goose with the golden eggs, well that is kind of the same thing. The authorities decided to protect the bay area from the massive amount of tourists with the associated piles of garbage that are being thrown in the ocean, the pollution of waters because of the boats and the spoliation of the limited natural resources of the island.

Taking a bit of a distance with the story, it is interesting to see that one of the major Hollywood actors, Leonardo DiCaprio, and one of the most visible defenders of the environment on the international stage through funding of various sustainability projects and the now infamous speech at the United Nations was actually, because of his fame, also the reason of the decay of this heavenly part of the Ko Phi Phi Leh island. Meat for thought on whether fame is the cause or is it a tool towards more sustainability and the possible duality of everybody’s actions. The beach significantly participated in DiCaprio’s fame and now it is a clear example of how humans can spoil natural beauty … A cause that DiCaprio is defending!

When will the beach be re-opened? We hope that the Thai authorities will take its time to come up with a sustainability plan before reopening the site, paving the way towards ecotourism and showing best practices in the matter. Hopefully, this case will be an example to be followed and not just a temporary solution.


Environment friendly vacations

The christmas holiday season is getting closer, and with it comes the choice of the vacation destination. Whether you are heading to the beach, to the mountains or sightseeing, the impact on the environment varies and can be significant.

Obvious points like the form of transportation you choose to get to the destination should be taken into account to assess this environmental impact. Other tricky points, like the place of stay, the activities and even the souvenirs you buy can be equally important.

First the transportation, WWF has put in place a travel helper (here) to enable travelers to know the environmental impact of their transportation means and act on it. It comes as no surprise that the most eco-friendly mean of transport is the train, which is ten-fold less polluting than any other combination of car and plane transportation.

Concerned Scientists about air pollution caused by cars and trucks

The travel helper shows something that is less evident to most of us, indeed, traveling by car, individually, is approximately 50% more polluting than taking the plane. Factors like traveling speed, car make, and driving behavior may have an impact on this 50% factor, but the measure is averaged on a statistically representative population of cars and drivers.

Second, the place of stay has a significant importance as well. We have all seen the small cards in hotels telling us that, out of environmental concerns, the hotel will not wash our towels every day. Whether this is an authentic, environment-friendly stand from the hotel or they are doing it for some economic reasons, it is a good first step.


Nevertheless, it does not explain the broader context of the hotel, for instance, is the overall water consumption optimized when counting the pools, fountains and other water games in its premises? Is it correctly sized inline with the number of guests? Is it serving locally grown food or imported goods? and so on. Many questions remain unanswered.

The third points are the gifts travelers carry home from vacations. It is not unusual to go say to a country in North America and buy a souvenir that is made in China ! A usual aberration of the globalization era, but very frequent in real life!

Through our activities, we strive to bring solutions to the above-mentioned issues to help travelers better cope with environmental challenges to help sustain the beautiful travel destinations.

Get in touch with the Guidexplorer team to share your experience and provide tips to help reduce the environmental footprint of fellow travelers.


Why You Should Travel by Train More Often

You have a lot of options when you travel to a destination. Obviously, traveling by plane or by a car are the most common. However, traveling by train can be efficient and overall the best way to travel. As traveling by train is becoming more and more popular around the world, there are a lot of perks to this way of getting from one destination to the next.
A couple of major perks while traveling by train include, cost, movability, minimal turbulence, gets you directly where you want to go into the city, and it builds intercultural bridges.
As you compare the costs of flying and all of the extra added fees, you will find that traveling by train is drastically cheaper and the easiest way to go whether you have a big family or going on a weekend trip with your significant other. Take a look at a couple of the advantages of traveling by train.

It’s Very Relaxing & Comfortable

Traveling by train can be very relaxing and comfortable. You will have more room than an airplane seat and you won’t be stuck in the same position for hours and hours. The luxury of traveling by train is that you can get up and move around in the cabin. It isn’t as strict as flying on an airline or even going on a road trip. Usually, you can get cramped up on the road or in the air so traveling by train is the perfect option for a relaxing start to your vacation.

It’s Cheaper Than You Think

Flying on an airline typically includes a lot of hidden fees, but when you travel by train you can put those worries aside. No need to stress about gas money or paying for your overweight baggage. Riding on trains are generally stable so you don’t have to worry about price fluctuation or if one day of the week is cheaper to travel than the next day.

Speaking of prices, traveling by train allows you to take more luggage than you would be able to on a plane. For places in the United States, you can take up to 200 pounds of luggage on a train. Since there isn’t as harsh as a weight requirement for trains there is much more flexibility.

No Turbulence

Remember the bumpy airplane ride? Not anymore! One of the best things about traveling by train is that it is a very smooth ride. You no longer have to worry about spilling your drink or making sure your carry on stays next to you or in the overhead cabin.

The Experience

You always hear about people going to the airport but train stations are the next best thing! Depending on where you go, traveling by train can be very scenic. You may experience some incredible views of the mountains, rivers, beach, and everything in between. Since it is a direct ride you don’t have to worry about traffic and sitting on the interstate. The frustrations of driving have no value when you travel by train. You can sit back and relax. Don’t deal with the stress of road rage and stop lights, just sit back and watch a movie. There is a lot of comfort and relaxation when traveling by train due to the fact you don’t have to listen to safety measures or have anyone bugging you.

You Get to Your Destination Quicker

If you are traveling to a big city, the nice thing is that train stations are very convenient to all the action. You might consider traveling by train whenever you would have to deal with the high parking prices in the cities. Most people prefer the train ride because it can be significantly cheaper in the long run. When you’re on vacation, costs add up quickly and this option could be the best one for you. Even if you have a long commute to work in the mornings, see if there are any train stations along the route. Most places offer a train pass and you would be able to ditch the morning and evening traffic!


Builds Intercultural Bridges

Traveling by train is also common due to the fact it builds intercultural bridges between places. In a way, it helps us understand how people from different countries and cultures act with us and their surroundings. Traveling builds experiences and awareness. It can help you grow as a person and you can even figure out more about yourself. Every culture has a different way of life and everyone should showcase that. The perfect example is Chengdu, Europe Express.

Sustainability considerations

Most of the operational trains today are using diesel engines. However, the environmental impact of trains is significantly less than any other means of transportation. On average trains emit 0.19 kg of CO2 per passenger mile (0.12 kg/km per passenger). While the European Commission has recently, in 2015, enforced the regulation to impose that newly registered cars shall emit less than 0.13 kg/km of CO2, it is still higher than the average of emissions registered for diesel traction trains. Moreover, this does not take into account the overall increase in the number of electric engines that are being deployed in trains.

It’s A Better Way of Life

As traveling by train is budget friendly, efficient, and enjoyable more people are looking for this option to get to their destination. It can be a great experience for a family vacation too! Young kids enjoy the view and being able to see what is going on rather than just having a small airplane window. Since there is more room to move around, children aren’t confined to a small space. It can also help you out as a parent! If you are traveling with small children there is more privacy. You no longer have to worry about your child crying on a plane, rather you can just shut your cabin door of the train. There are many advantages to traveling by train for everyone. City workers are leaning on trains to get them to work in a timely fashion. From city to city, and coast to coast, trains provide traveling for all ages. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the view!

Bali’s tourism is booming, so is the environmental pressure

Bali rice fields

The tranquility of strolling around in Bali is unmatched, even by the freshest of juices at a hot summer afternoon (it is good to remember these days with the winter coming!). But travelling has an impact on the environment. And it is not only about taking a plane to get to a destination, the pressure tourism has on the local resources, the change in the economic activity, positive and negative, may have much more impacts than we think.

It is a statement I read about the ratio of water consumption in residential area versus hotels that got me thinking of: how to quantify the impact of tourism on local environments? In this article, I try to provide a simplistic answer to this question from the point of view of a curious citizen and not from the perspective of an environmental expert.

Water consumption, water consumption … 5 times !!!

Speaking at German trade show ITB in Berlin Dr. Stroma Cole, director of Equality in Tourism highlighted that it is the sustainable management of water that will be the major vector of driving tourism in the coming years. She also mentioned that Bali will be facing a critical point at 2020 concerning the water supply and demand. This conclusion is based on the findings of several monitoring organisations, for example the Bali Hotel Association (BHA) and Howarth HTL where they report that  the assumed per capita daily use of fresh water is of 183 liters, whereas for a 2 stars hotel the consumption is of 1000 liters. Knowing that lots of hotels are 2+ stars in Bali, the water consumption ratio is likely to be more than 1 to 5. For statistics concerning the number of hotels and their ratings please refer to this document.

Now hold on a second, I have been to Bali a couple of times, and I don’t remember that I drank this much of additional water in comparison with my usual daily dose! That is correct, but it does not take into account the magnificent pools, giant flower pots and other fountains and gardens that nicely decorate most of the hotels ! My gut feeling would be then to agree with the statement that the popularity of Bali as vacation destination has a significant impact on the water reserves.

So starting from this point, I started to look for the available open and free data to see if this makes any sense at all. Keeping an open mind to avoid falling in the trap of finding what I am looking for !

Trying to locate the pressure

The first dataset I looked for was statistics on the number of travellers flying to Bali to see how these fluctuated over the past decade. I found an open dataset (here) coming from the Indonesian government that showed a continuous increase in the number of tourists climbing from 2 millions to approximately 11 million visiting tourists in 2014. Moreover the data showed the number of tourists who checked-in the different  attraction over the beautiful island.

The most visited region of Bali in 2014 was the south west region of Tabanan that accounts for about 40% of all tourists.

Most visited regions in Bali
From the study of the historical data, we can say that this region of Tabanan has been constantly the main engine of tourism in Bali. This region has been growing at a CAGR of 24% over the past 12 years. To the contrary the region of Jembrana at the west has been losing momentum over the same period with a decrease in the overall number of tourists.

The following map shows the relative weight of each region in the constant growth of tourists.

As you can see, the region that have seen a significant increase in the number of tourists is the region situated at the south and center of the island. The sandy beaches of Kuta, the temple of Tanah Lot are major attractions in Bali. One may think that given the small size of the island, tourists have the choice of staying in the north or the center for example and visit these areas on day tours. This would mean that the increase of residential areas in these regions can be reasonable to avoid putting major stress on the infrastructures through the creation of hotels for example. Trying to identify patterns of growth of residential areas is something that earth observation data by satellites does great thanks to the global coverage and the diversity of sensors.

Earth observation data to the rescue !

The European Commission’s Joint research center (JRC) has deployed significant effort to map built-up areas across the planet. The result of this effort are an open source, open tools, map layers that are available here. So I thought, perfect, let’s use this to see how the urban areas evolved over Bali over time. The results, shown in the following map, that show the evolution from 1975 to 2015, seem to be inline with the tourism influx shown in the previous map.  Yeah, one of the advantages of using satellite imagery is that we can go back in time to do spatial analysis.

How about population growth 

The million dollar question now is whether this increase in residential areas is only related to an increase in the number of tourists accommodation areas or whether they are related to normal increase in population. According to the official reports of the Indonesian government (here), the population in Bali has almost doubled in the period from 1971 to 2010, rising from 2.1 Million to 3.8 million persons (circa 1.1% growth rate over the last decade).

While this population growth may help explain the increase in population in the dense urban centers (the red points in the previous map), it does not explain the increase in the low density urban clusters (shown by the green areas on the map). Another indicator is the sheer increase in the number of hotels in Bali over the past decade. Indeed, according to the market analysis report issued by Colliers international (here), the number of hotels, budget and luxury hotels combined, has almost doubled over the period from 2005 to 2015. This seems to be inline with the continuous increase in the number of tourists coming to Bali.

Should we stop going to Bali ??! No way ..

Factually speaking, the earth observation data show that there is a construction pressure, the stats show there is a significant increase in tourist influx and that there might be correlations with the number of hotels as the number of hotels being built-up is in continuous increase. This gives food for thought, first on how available data might be used to indicate certain trends in pressure on available resources.

The objective of these reflexion is not to refrain you from going to your favourite vacation spot, but to think about the possible impact. Maybe one of the solutions would be to avoid touristy centers and stay in a non-traditional places, beside being sure to have unique experiences, you also avoid putting the pressure on resources on critical areas.

A concrete example would be for example to stay at the west or north of Bali where there is less pressure on water consumption rather than staying in the south. You will still be able to visit your favourite spots over a day trip and you will enjoy less crowd and more personalized experiences.

Now what ?

The Guidexplorer team will be happy to provide you with a customized study for your next vacation destination to help you pick up the right “environment friendly” hotel, and we are not talking about using bamboo sticks instead of forks but rather which hotel area you should choose to minimize the pressure on local resources. If you are interested, send us a message at

Bon voyage ! And do not hesitate to reach out with your comments !

(Disclaimer: Guidexplorer has absolutely no interest in guiding the travelers to specific parts of Bali)