Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand’s Prime Minister recently endorsed a series
of measures to help reduce the country’s growing energy bill, including a
plan to shut down all TV stations at midnight. This on top of an existing
social reform program that enforces early closing of entertainment places,
puts yet further strain on the already stressed tourism sector.
Certainly not the right message to be sending around the
world to potential holidaymakers? Recent reports, from hoteliers based in
Phuket, of police raids and enforced urine tests for tourists visiting clubs
and bars in the resort also add to the misery of the post tsunami fall out.
However, should one blame the PM for these enforcements,
after all he has only the best interests of the country at heart?
Most engineers agree that it will have little impact on
energy saving, as other forms of entertainment will be sought and the energy
consumption minimal when compared to heating and cooling costs. However, it
will help a little.
It just seems to me that the industry, credited with so
much pressure to produce foreign currency, has little in the way of powerful
lobbyists to make a case for restraint and to explore alternatives. What of
the TAT, THA and other industry bodies to make ‘noise’ to protect our
interests? Certainly it would appear they are quiet, but then public
confrontation is not a natural attribute of the Thai tourism industry’s
profile - we are after all, a Land of Smiles.
My personal fear is that further austerity measures, that
are to be reviewed in September, following the failure of the current
measures, will be even harder, and will continue to hurt tourism.
Is it right for the PM to enforce these measures ... or
are we ourselves to blame?
Well the short answer is yes ... and no. Yes, certainly
as oil prices make daily headlines, with limited supply and demand so
strong, one can only guess where it will end. $100 a barrel?
For years, the environmentalists have forewarned on the
dangers of heavy dependence on fossil fuels. Global warming and damaging
pollutions add to the economic woes. Add to that the rising demand from
highly populated countries, such as China and India, and it really does not
take a genius to work out that a “Giga-sized” problem lies ahead.
So it’s serious, and most businesses, including
hoteliers are becoming acutely aware how rises in energy costs are having
worrying impacts on the bottom line. The pressure by agents to hold rates
year in and year out add to the worry.
Take a medium sized hotel in Asia of 350-500 rooms.
Electricity will be the single largest portion of the energy bill, of which
air conditioning will account for up to 80 percent. Here in Thailand expect
that to be in the region of Bt1.6-Bt2.5 million ($40,000 to $62,000) per
month or 10-15 percent of the cost of running a hotel. Then add in other
fuel costs, such as oil for heating water and gas for cooking, and don’t
forget to include the cost of water. For those hotels that have them (most
do) - the laundry takes up a large portion of the hot water bill along with
guest’s bathing and showers.
So what if we were able to get free hot water and free
air conditioning? Yes please ... but isn’t that just a dream?
No. Many large buildings are now investing in heat pumps
that give ‘free’ hot (60 degrees C) water, and as a by-product, a small
amount of chilled air. They work very much like an air conditioning unit,
only in reverse. The bad news is that whilst they are cheap to run, they
cost about 10 times more than an equivalent sized air conditioning unit.
It is the tropical warm air that makes heat pumps
efficient and they are particularly effective in Asia. If governments were
serious about reducing their reliance on imported oil, then this must be one
measure to consider. Most new buildings are installing them as standard.
If governments could help to reduce their purchase cost,
with reduced import duties, or even special tax incentives to have heat
pumps built locally and offer grants for older buildings we could then
replace inefficient oil burning boilers. I believe the savings would be
So yes, the blame is partly shared. Both the private
sector and governments have to take a responsible lead.
And what of other energy saving ideas? Solar panels are
well tried and tested, but so far are little used throughout Asia.
Scandinavian countries, with little daily sunshine, have been using them
successfully, however, for decades for both power and hot water.
Ozone is another option, which avoids the need for high
temperature hot water, in hotel laundries and hospitals.
Wind power and wave power are also other alternative
forms of power producers. The problem, however, lies in their cost. But what
if oil reaches $100 a barrel; what if the oil producing countries
stop producing; what if, as most fear, oil will eventually be too
expensive to burn?
Yes, hotels and the tourism industry do have a social
responsibility ... but my guess is that of the many different types of
industries, the hospitality sector is probably at the forefront of energy
conservation. Where more help is needed is through education, access to
cheaper equipment and provisions of loans for older buildings. Most studies
show that in the case of heat pumps, the returns on investment are less than
2 years. The potential savings for one of my hotels ... 20,000 litres of
fuel oil per month. Worth a thought Prime Minister?
It is clear what our social responsibility is, but as
with everything, is there the political will and conviction to make it
happen? After all, it’s easier just to switch off the TV - isn’t it?
Andrew J Wood,
Chaophya Park Hotel, Bangkok