Thailand’s Minister of Tourism Wants to Clamp Down on Sex Tourism

Thailand is known for its beautiful beaches, its culture, its beautiful temples, its gastronomy, and the vibrant city lifestyle of Bangkok. But, let’s face it, these aren’t the ONLY things it is known for…

To many tourists, Thailand is—by reputation—perceived as a sex tourism destination, particularly destinations such as Pattaya, the Patong district in Phuket, and the Patpong, Soi Cowboy, and Nana districts in downtown Bangkok. You may agree or disagree but it is a reality. Successive governments have tried to clamp down on what is considered officially an “illegal” activity, but the sex-trade has been flourishing for many decades, due in no small part to the complex relationship between the sex establishment owners and some public servants, including policemen.

The opening hours of go-go bars—male and female—have been more strictly regulated, while the number of streets welcoming such activities has been limited, and from time to time police perform raids on these venues and close down some bars. Recently, a spate of raids took place in some of the city’s largest brothels.

The Minister of Tourism, Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, tried to downplay the kingdom’s flesh trade industry when told international news agency Reuters that sex was not the main attraction among tourists to the Kingdom. “Tourists don’t come to Thailand for such a thing. They come here for our beautiful culture,” she insisted. “We want Thailand to be about quality tourism. We want the sex industry gone,” she went on to say.

However experts estimate that it will be difficult to rid Thailand of an industry that is so culturally entrenched, and so lucrative to many. According to data collected from various official sources by Havocscope, an information and threat intelligence website covering the global black market, Thailand’s sex industry employs 250,000 people, generating as much as US$6.4 billion—the highest revenue of any ASEAN country. The same intelligence site estimates that prostitutes contribute up to US$300 million a year to the economy of Thailand’s upcountry rural areas.

The Minister’s comments are part of the strategy to re-position Thailand as a luxury, high-quality travel destination. So far this strategy is generating results. Effective marketing campaigns these days promote secondary destinations with a cultural background, as well as wedding and honeymoon travel, highlight sport activities, and luxury shopping. But to believe that one day they would be no tourists at all coming to Thailand to just have some “adult fun” is certainly unrealistic. Thailand’s international image of being a sex paradise has been around for a long, long time—almost for half a century!

Anyone who doubts this claim should just look to Pattaya. This seaside resort built its reputation across the world as a sex industry mecca. And all the efforts of various governments to change the image of Thailand’s top seaside destination have been in vain, despite a remarkable diversification of the tourism product in the last ten years—including luxury theme resorts, sport activities, luxury malls, and so on.

Perhaps the best strategy is to continue promoting other activities and destinations in Thailand, and to just keep quiet about the “up-and-downs” of the sex industry. The more the government vilifies the sex industry in the public eye, the more they just give it extra publicity.

(Partial source: Reuters)