Thailand's Tourism Industry

For several decades, Thailand has been one of the most visited destinations in South East Asia. The variety of its landscapes and the low prices in food and accommodation are some of the main factors that contribute to the success of Thailand as a global tourist destination. Keep reading for a detailed introduction to the tourist industry in this Asian country.

An overview of the tourist industry in Thailand

There are two official bodies in charge of promoting Thailand as a tourist destination and collecting key facts and figures about the Thai tourist industry. These are the Tourist Authority of Thailand and the Ministry of Tourism and Sports. According to the latest statistics released by these official bodies, Thailand was visited by more than 21 million people in 2012. The figures for 2013 look even better, since according to the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, during June 2013, more than 1,38 million tourists arrived to the country. This figure represents an increase of 27.5 per cent over last year's numbers. Just between January and June 2013 the number of visitors reached 22.3 million.

Although traditionally the majority of tourists visiting Thailand came from Europe and North America, in recent years there has been a shift in the origin of visitors. In June 2013, over 814,000 tourists arrived in Thailand from other East Asian countries, notably China (more than 277,000), Japan (over 100,000), Singapore (70,000), Korea (64,000), and Hong Kong (52,000). The number of Indian tourists is also growing significantly, as only in one month nearly 100,000 Indian nationals visited Thailand. By contrast, only 250,000 of the total number of tourists came from Europe, with the United Kingdom and Russia being the most popular countries of origin, followed by France and Germany.

In its website, the Tourist Authority of Thailand lists some of the most notable awards that the Thai tourist sector has recently received. These include the TripAdvisor Travellers' Choice Awards for Best Islands in Asia, the World's 10 Best Fresh Markets Award (given to Or Kor Tor market in the northern suburbs of Bangkok), the Best Value Destination title by the Lonely Planet magazine, Bangkok's designation as the World's Best City by the Travel and Leisure magazine, the 2012 Gold Awards given by the Pacific Asia Travel Association, and Bangkok's nomination as one of the best cities in Asia for street food by the CNN.

Figures released by the Oxford Business Group and the World Travel and Tourism Council point at 2013 as a potential record-breaking year for the tourist sector in Thailand. According to the latest reports, the Thai tourist industry generated nearly $28 billion in 2012. This means that tourism contributes 7.3 per cent of the country's total gross domestic product. More than 2 million Thai nationals are directly employed by the tourist industry, and once indirect employment is taken into account, the figures rise to 4.8 million. During 2012, the local tourist industry attracted investments for the value of $7.7 billion.

Key tourist destinations in Thailand

Bangkok is the main gateway to Thailand. The Thai capital city is served by two airports (Subarnabhumi and Don Muang), which together handle nearly 400,000 plane movements every year. Bangkok's main tourist attractions include the city's floating markets, its nightlife and entertainment options, its ancient temples, and the combination of affordable but high-quality accommodation options.

Chiang Mai is Thailand's second largest city. This northern city was also listed among the 25 top destinations in the world by TripAdvisor, and it is expected that it will soon become a UNESCO Heritage Site. Chiang Mai is famous for its night markets, folk festivals, and for its proximity to some of the country's most renowned national parks. Trekking, adeventure sports, and eco-tourism are very popular sources of income and employment in the area. What has been called "educational tourism" is also increasingly popular in both Bangkok and Chiang Mai, as many tourists sign up for Thai massage, Thai boxing, or Thai cooking courses during their stay.

The Thai islands are another focal point for tourism. Pukhet is the country's third most visited city, and attracts the largest numbers of tourists along with the islands of Ko Samui, Ko Panghan, Ko Samet, and Ko Tao. In these destinations, package holidays compete in popularity with independent travel. The Thai islands have also become a highly sought after destination for travellers wishing to celebrate their wedding, honeymoon, or anniversary. Diving courses are another common activity for tourists who visit the islands.

Other established destinations include the historic city of Ayutthaya (just 2 hours west of Bangkok), Pattaya, Hua Hin, the coastal province of Krabi, Chiang Rai (a mountainous province near the border with Laos), and the national parks around Kanchanaburi, in western Thailand.

Tour Operators

Venturing south a recommended destination is Koh Tao, Thailand's gem of an island in the Gulf of Thailand next to Koh Phangan. Contact Scuba Dive Asia who run small guided dive tours and classes available in most languages.