It’s sad but true, but when people think of tourism in Thailand an image that often comes to mind is one of raunchy drunken nights and cheap sex. Cleaning up Thailand’s reputation as a sex tourism destination is an uphill battle for local officials and hospitality operators keen to present the country as a land of wholesome travel enjoyment for those coveted “quality tourists”.
With tourism a cornerstone of Thailand’s economy, earning the country a record $53.76 billion in revenues for 2017, there’s a lot riding on maintaining an image of Thailand as a safe, clean and appealing place for (non-debauched) travellers.
Then something happens like the release of a movie that shows Thailand as a whacky, depraved sex playground like the “Hangover Part II” film. And more recently, a tourism minister from Gambia urged travellers looking for a sex-filled holiday to go to Thailand instead, a comment that quickly went viral.
Thai tourism promoters were quick to crank up the PR machine to beat down the country’s salacious reputation, yet again. The Tourism Authority of Thailand sent letters of protest to consular offices for the West African country, and issued this “no sex here” press release:
Bangkok, 28 February, 2018 – The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) ensures that its marketing strategy and policy to move Thailand forward as the ‘Quality Destination’ has stepped in the right direction since it was paid off by last year’s success, and strongly opposes any form of sex tourism.
Mr. Yuthasak Supasorn, TAT Governor, said: “As the Thai government’s official body promoting Thailand to international and local travellers while supporting the development of the country’s tourism industry for nearly 58 years, our mission is to highlight tourism’s importance to national economic development, job creation, income distribution, and the prominent role it plays in enhancing social integration and preserving the environment.
Mr. Yuthasak also added that “Over the past few years, TAT has actively focused on promoting Thailand as a ‘Quality Leisure Destination’ that highlights a new era of tourism as measured by visitor expenditure, average length of stay, and the overall quality of visitor experience.”
TAT has stepped up efforts to coordinate with all concerned authorities and organisations in the public and private sectors to create a better understanding on Thailand’s tourism and the country’s well-established positioning as a ‘quality tourism destination’.
Meanwhile, Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has stepped forward to take an official action against the Gambian tourism minister’s baseless comment on Thailand’s tourism. A formal letter of protest has been filed from the Embassy of Thailand to the Republic of Senegal, which is also responsible for neighbouring Gambia, and the Embassy of Thailand to Malaysia where the Gambian High Commission also takes care of Thailand.
Thailand’s ongoing efforts to move from mass to ‘quality’ tourism is successfully producing positive results with the Kingdom ranked third in global tourism revenue for 2017 by the United Nations’ World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).
Last year, the Thai tourism industry recorded its highest revenue in its history, achieving tourism receipts totalling 1.82 trillion Baht (US$ 53.76 billion), a 11.66 per cent year-on-year increase, from 35.3 million international tourist arrivals (up 8.7 per cent). Domestic tourism revenue also reached 695.5 billion Baht (US$ 20.5 billion) from 192.2 million trips.
During 2017, TAT continued to emphasise niche markets including sports tourism, health and wellness, weddings and honeymoons, and female travellers. The ongoing efforts are being carried on through to this year under new marketing initiatives and revitalised tourism products and services.
Under Amazing Thailand, TAT’s latest marketing concept of ‘Open to the New Shades’ encourages travellers from around the world to enjoy existing tourism products and attractions through new perspectives. This ranges from gastronomy, nature and beach, arts and crafts, culture and the Thai local way of life.
I would imagine that having released this, TAT officials are now keen to get back to promoting festivals, hotel deals and Thai beaches. Until the next “Hangover” movie at least!