Tourism is a major economic contributor to the Kingdom of Thailand. Estimates of tourism receipts directly contributing to the Thai GDP of 12 trillion baht range from 9 percent (one trillion baht) (2013) to 17.7 percent (2.53 trillion baht) in 2016.[1][2] When including indirect travel and tourism receipts, the 2014 total is estimated to have accounted for 19.3 percent (2.3 trillion baht) of Thailand's GDP.[3]:1 The global average for tourism revenue is 9 percent of GDP.[1]

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) uses the slogan "Amazing Thailand" to promote Thailand internationally. In 2015, this was supplemented by a "Discover Thainess" campaign.[4]


Statue of a mythical Kinnon, Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok

Among the reasons for the increase in tourism in the 1960s were the stable political atmosphere and the development of Bangkok as a crossroads of international air transport. The hotel industry and retail industry both expanded rapidly due to tourist demand. It was boosted by the presence of US GIs who started to arrive in the 1960s for rest and recuperation (R&R) during the Vietnam War.[5] Concomitantly, international mass tourism sharply increased during the same period due to the rising standard of living, more people acquiring more free time, and improvements in technology making it possible to travel further, faster, cheaper and in greater numbers, epitomised by the Boeing 747 which first flew commercially in 1970.[6] Thailand was one of the first players in Asia to capitalise on this then-new trend.

Thai woman working silk looms, Jim Thompson House

Tourist numbers have grown from 336,000 foreign visitors and 54,000 GIs on R&R in 1967[5] to 32.59 million foreign guests visiting Thailand in 2016.[7][8][9] The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) claims that the tourist industry earned 2.52 trillion baht (US$71.4 billion) in 2016, up 11 percent from 2015.[7] TAT officials said their revenue estimates, for foreign and domestic tourists combined, show that tourism revenue for all of 2017 may surpass earlier forecasts of 2.77 trillion baht (US$78.5 billion).[7]

Phra Pathommachedi at night, Nakhon Pathom

In 2015, 6.7 million persons arrived from ASEAN countries and the number is expected to grow to 8.3 million in 2016, generating 245 billion baht.[10] The largest numbers of Western tourists came from Russia (6.5 percent), the UK (3.7 percent), Australia (3.4 percent) and the US (3.1 percent).[11] Around 55 percent of Thailand's tourists are return visitors.[citation needed] The peak period is during the Christmas and New Year holidays when Western tourists flee cold conditions at home.

Mime on Walking Street in Pattaya.

In 2014, 4.6 million Chinese visitors travelled to Thailand.[11][12] In 2015, Chinese tourists numbered 7.9 million or 27 percent of all international tourist arrivals, 29.8 million; 8.75 million Chinese tourists visited Thailand in 2016.[13][10] Thailand relies heavily on Chinese tourists to meet its tourism revenue target of 2.2 trillion baht in 2015 and 2.3 trillion in 2016.

Chinese visitors now account for 27 percent of all foreign travellers to Thailand.[14] It is estimated that the average Chinese tourist remains in the country for one week and spends 30,000–40,000 baht (US$1,000–1,300) per person, per trip.[15] The average Chinese tourist spends 6,400 baht (US$180) per day—more than the average visitor's 5,690 baht (US$160).[10][12] According to Thailand's Tourism Authority, the number of Chinese tourists rose by 93 percent in the first quarter of 2013, an increase that was attributed to the popularity of the Chinese film Lost in Thailand that was filmed in the northern province of Chiang Mai. Chinese media outlets have claimed that Thailand superseded Hong Kong as the top destination for Chinese travellers during the 2013 May Day holiday.[16] The huge influx of Chinese tourists has not been without its downside. Locals have complained that many Chinese visitors are culturally insensitive and boorish. This has led the Thai government to publish a Mandarin language "etiquette manual" for distribution to Chinese tourists.[17]

In 2015, Thailand hosted 1.43 million Japanese travellers, up 4.1 percent from 2015, generating 61.4 billion baht, up 6.3 percent. In 2016, Thailand expects 1.7 million Japanese tourists, generating 66.2 billion baht in revenue.[18]

To accommodate foreign visitors, the Thai government established a separate tourism police force with offices in the major tourist areas and its own central emergency telephone number.[19]

Thailand's tourism has faced increased competition since Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam opened up to international tourism in the 1980s and 1990s. Destinations like Angkor Wat, Luang Prabang and Halong Bay now rival Thailand's former monopoly in the Indochina region. To counter this, Thailand is targeting niche markets such as golf holidays, holidays combined with medical treatment or visits to military installations.[13] Thailand has also plans to become the hub of Buddhist tourism in the region.[20]

International rankings

In the MasterCard 2014 and 2015 Global Destination Cities Index, Bangkok ranked the second of the world's top-20 most-visited cities, trailing only London.[21][22] The U.S. News' 2017 Best Countries report ranked Thailand at 4th globally for adventure value and 7th for cultural heritage.[23]

The Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2015 published by the World Economic Forum ranked Thailand 35 of 141 nations. Among the metrics used to arrive at the rankings, Thailand scored high on "Natural Resources" (16 of 141 nations) and "Tourist Service Infrastructure" (21 of 141), but low on "Environmental Sustainability" (116 of 141) and "Safety and Security" (132 of 141).[24][25]

In 2013, Thailand was the 10th "top tourist destination" in the world tourism rankings with 26.5 million international arrivals.[26]:6

In 2016, Bangkok ranked 1st surpassing London and New York in Euromonitor International's list of "Top City Destinations" with 21 million visitors.

In 2008, Pattaya was 23rd with 4,406,300 visitors, Phuket 31st with 3,344,700 visitors, and Chiang Mai ranked 78th place with 1,604,600 visitors.[27]

In a list released by Instagram that identified the ten most photographed locations worldwide in 2012, Suvarnabhumi Airport and Siam Paragon shopping mall were ranked number one and two respectively, more popular than New York City's Times Square or Paris's Eiffel Tower.[28]

2013–2015 Thai political unrest

At the commencement of 2014, the Thai tourist industry suffered due to the political turmoil that erupted in October 2013. A shutdown of Bangkok's governmental offices on 13 January 2014 by anti-government protesters, prompted some tourists to avoid the Thai capital. TAT forecasted that arrival numbers might drop by around five percent in the first quarter of 2014, with the total number of arrivals down by 260,000 from the original projection of 29.86 million. Tourism revenue is also expected to drop slightly from 1.44 trillion.[29]

Tourist arrivals in 2014 totalled 24.7 million, a drop of 6.6 percent from 2013. Revenues derived from tourism amounted to 1.13 trillion baht, down 5.8 percent from the previous year. Kobkarn Wattanavarangkul, Thailand's Minister of Tourism and Sports, attributed the decline to the political crisis in the first-half of 2014 which dissuaded many potential visitors from visiting Thailand. Tourism officials also pointed to the dramatic fall in the value of the Russian ruble which has damaged the economies of popular Russian destinations such as Phuket and Pattaya.[30]

At the beginning of April 2015, Thailand ended martial law, to be replaced by Article 44 of the provisional constitution, granting unrestricted powers to the prime minister. The words "martial law" were toxic to foreign democracies, but, in terms of tourism, even more toxic to foreign travel insurance providers, who decline to provide insurance to those visiting nations under martial law. The tourism industry rebounded swiftly after the lifting of martial law. Deputy Prime Minister Pridiyathorn Devakula said that the arrival of high-spending tourists from Europe and the US is expected to increase.[31]

"Discover Thainess" tourist initiative

In order to reignite growth in Thailand's tourist industry, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has embarked on a new campaign for 2015 entitled "2015: Discover Thainess".[4][32] TAT Governor Thawatchai Arunyik said the campaign will incorporate the "twelve values" that Thai junta leader and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha wants all Thais to practice.[30] TAT officials foresee a large increase in tourist numbers due to the "Discover Thainess" campaign. Ms Somrudi Chanchai, Director of the TAT Northeastern Office, has forecasted that tourists to her Isan region will increase by 27.9 million [sic] visitors, generating 65 billion baht in revenue.[33]


Thailand's popularity as a tourist destination owes a great deal to its benign climate. Thailand predominantly has a tropical wet and dry or savannah climate while the south and the eastern tip of the east have a tropical monsoon climate.[34]

Most of Thailand has three seasons:

  • The cool dry season from late-November to February. Temperatures in December for Chiang Mai average around 15 Celsius at night, rising to around 28 Celsius during the day with clear sunny skies. Higher up in the mountains, temperatures may drop to near freezing at night. In Bangkok and in the central and northeastern plains of Thailand, midday temperatures during the cool dry season average around 30 Celsius and the humidity is much lower.
  • The hot dry season from March to May can see daytime temperatures in the mid- to high-30s. This is the time for holding festivals (such as Songkran and Rocket Festival) to mark the coming of the rainy season.
  • The rainy season from May to October has daytime temperatures in the low-30s with nighttime temperatures in the mid= to high-20s. Some areas have a relatively short rainy season, such as Ko Samui where it is typically only approximately six weeks, starting in October and running to November. Rain showers mainly occur late-afternoon or early-evening. Typically, humidity is high.

Deeper south on the Kra Isthmus with its tropical monsoon climate, daytime temperatures year-round tend to hover around 31 Celsius with only a marked increase in rainfall during the monsoons. The west coast is affected by monsoons from May to October, the southeast coast of the isthmus is affected from October to January.[35]


Annual statistics

  • Reference: statistics for the period 1998–2016,[36] 2017.[37]
"Amazing Thailand" – Thailand Tourism booth at a Travel and Tour Expo
Year Arrivals % change
7,111,426 [38]
2017 35,381,210 Increase 8.57%
2016 32,588,303 Increase 8.91%[39]
2015 29,881,091 Increase 20.44%
2014 24,809,683 Decrease 6.54%
2013 26,546,725 Increase 18.77%
2012 22,353,903 Increase 15.98%
2011 19,230,470 Increase 20.67%
2010 15,936,400 Increase 12.63%
2009 14,149,841 Decrease 2.98%
2008 14,584,220 Increase 0.83%
2007 14,464,228 Increase 4.65%
2006 13,821,802 Increase 20.01%
2005 11,516,936 N/A

In their justifications for constructing a new coal-fired power plant in Krabi Province (2015), the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) presumes that by 2032 Thailand will receive more than 100 million tourists a year, 40 percent of them visiting Phuket and neighbouring areas such as Krabi. On average, the power consumption of a tourist is four times higher than that of a local resident.[40]

In 2015 some segments of Thailand's hospitality industry enjoyed their best year in over two decades, according to research firm STR Global. Thailand closed the year with an overall hotel occupancy of 73.4 percent, an increase of 13.6 percent over 2014, as arrivals rose to near the 30 million mark, driven by demand from the Chinese market. December 2015 was a particularly strong month as occupancy levels reached 77.4 percent, the highest level since 1995.[41]

Despite the increasing number of tourist arrivals, some businesses catering to the tourist trade report declining numbers. Mr Sompoch Sukkaew, chief legal counsel of the Patong Entertainment Business Association (PEBA) in Phuket, said in January 2016 that entertainment businesses are suffering. "Over the past three years, most bars were averaging about B90,000 revenue per day at this time of year,...now they're making just B40,000. Small bars...used to average B40,000 to B50,000 a day, now they're down to just B10,000 per day....PEBA members generated about B1.5 million per day during the peak season. Now it's down to about B540,000 per day." PEBA members number 500 in Patong, with about 200 businesses in the Bangla Road entertainment area. PEBA President Weerawit Kuresombat attributed the decline to the rise in Chinese tourism. "...most of them [Chinese tourists] come on complete tour packages....This means they spend very little on extras....They rarely venture out for the nightlife or even visit independent restaurants. They just don't spend much", he said.[42]

The Thai government expects revenue from foreign tourists to increase by 8.5 percent to 1.78 trillion baht (US$49.8 billion) in 2017. Deputy Prime Minister Thanasak Patimaprakorn attributed the increase to the improving outlook for global tourism as well as Thailand's investments in infrastructure. In 2016, Thailand had 32.6 million visitors, a rise of nearly nine percent from 2015. Thanasak expects daily tourist spending to increase to 5,200 baht per person in 2017, up from 5,100 baht in 2016.[39] Local tourists are expected to contribute an additional 950 billion baht in tourism revenues in 2017.[43]

Top 25 arrivals by nationality

  • Reference: statistics for the period 1998–2016,[36] 2017.[37]
Rank Country or territory Jan-Feb
2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006
* ASEAN 1,428,722 9,119,941 8,658,051 7,886,136 6,641,772 7,282,266 6,281,153 5,594,577 4,534,235 3,968,579 3,971,429 3,520,051 3,389,342
1  China 2,170,494 9,805,753 8,757,466 7,934,791 4,636,298 4,637,335 2,786,860 1,721,247 1,122,219 777,508 826,660 907,117 949,117
2  Malaysia* 542,867 3,354,800 3,533,826 3,423,397 2,613,418 3,041,097 2,554,397 2,500,280 2,058,956 1,757,813 1,855,332 1,540,080 1,591,328
3  Russia 421,973 1,346,219 1,089,992 884,085 1,606,430 1,746,565 1,316,564 1,054,187 644,678 336,965 324,120 277,503 187,658
4  South Korea 357,773 1,709,070 1,464,218 1,372,995 1,122,566 1,295,342 1,263,619 1,156,283 885,445 758,227 889,210 1,183,652 1,092,783
5  Japan 288,747 1,544,328 1,439,629 1,381,690 1,267,886 1,586,425 1,373,716 1,277,893 993,674 1,004,453 1,153,868 1,277,638 1,311,987
6  Laos* 276,632 1,612,647 1,409,456 1,233,138 1,053,983 976,639 975,999 891,950 715,345 655,034 621,564 513,701 276,207
7  India 239,059 1,411,942 1,193,822 1,069,149 932,603 1,050,889 1,013,308 914,971 760,371 614,566 536,964 536,356 459,795
8  Germany 205,004 849,283 835,506 760,604 715,240 737,658 682,419 619,133 606,874 573,473 542,726 544,495 516,659
9  United States 200,609 1,056,124 974,632 867,520 763,520 823,486 768,638 681,748 611,792 627,074 669,097 681,972 694,258
10  France 197,916 739,853 738,763 681,097 635,073 611,582 576,106 515,572 461,670 427,067 398,407 373,090 321,278
11  United Kingdom 182,914 994,468 1,003,386 946,919 907,877 905,024 873,053 844,972 810,727 841,425 826,523 859,010 850,685
12  Singapore* 146,693 1,028,077 966,909 937,311 844,133 955,468 831,215 682,364 603,538 563,575 570,047 604,603 687,160
13  Cambodia* 135,915 854,431 686,682 487,487 550,339 481,595 423,642 265,903 146,274 96,586 85,790 99,945 117,100
14  Australia 123,564 817,091 791,631 805,946 831,854 900,460 930,241 829,855 698,046 646,705 694,473 658,148 549,547
15  Vietnam* 122,372 934,497 830,394 751,091 559,415 725,057 618,670 496,768 380,368 363,029 338,303 237,672 227,134
16  Hong Kong 121,420 820,894 749,694 669,165 483,131 588,335 473,666 411,834 316,476 318,762 337,827 367,862 376,636
17  Sweden 110,171 323,669 332,866 321,663 324,865 341,398 364,681 373,856 355,214 350,819 392,274 378,387 306,085
18  Taiwan 108,299 572,964 522,231 552,624 394,149 502,176 394,475 394,225 369,220 362,783 393,176 427,474 475,117
19  Indonesia* 92,459 574,764 535,625 469,226 497,592 594,251 447,820 370,795 286,072 227,205 247,930 237,592 219,783
20  Italy 67,132 264,429 265,532 246,066 219,875 207,192 200,703 185,869 168,203 170,105 159,513 171,328 150,420
21  Canada 61,541 258,392 244,268 227,306 211,059 229,897 219,354 194,356 168,393 169,482 180,900 183,440 183,094
22  Myanmar* 55,408 365,590 341,641 259,678 206,794 172,383 129,385 110,671 90,179 79,279 71,902 72,205 62,769
23  Philippines* 54,463 380,886 339,486 310,975 304,813 321,571 289,566 268,375 246,430 217,705 221,506 205,266 198,443
24   Switzerland 49,211 209,434 208,967 206,454 201,271 199,923 191,147 170,044 155,761 148,269 143,065 146,511 140,741
25  Netherlands 42,537 222,077 235,708 221,657 211,524 218,765 208,122 198,891 196,994 205,412 193,541 194,434 180,830

* ASEAN nation

Selling umbrellas at the Sunday evening market in Chiang Mai
Phanom Rung, a Khmer temple complex set on the rim of an extinct volcano in Buriram Province

Sex tourism

Of the 26.74 million visitors recorded by TAT in 2013, 11.23 million were men suspected by NGOs to have come to Thailand explicitly to engage in prostitution.[44] Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, named Thailand's first female tourism minister in 2014, has pledged to eradicate Thailand's sex industry. "We want Thailand to be about quality tourism. We want the sex industry gone," Ms Kobkarn told Reuters. "Tourists don't come to Thailand for [sex]. They come here for our beautiful culture." She has named Pattaya, with its thousands of bars, brothels, and massage parlours, her "pilot project" in the cleanup campaign.[45] Kobkarn was replaced as tourism minister in November 2017.[46]

On 21 February 2017, Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha announced that he will order the police to dismantle Pattaya's sex industry. "I don't support prostitution", said Prayut.[47]

Gastronomical tourism

The governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), said the agency aims to increase income from the gastronomy business from 20 percent of total tourism income forecasted for 2017 to 25 percent in 2018. In 2017, TAT aims for 2.77 trillion baht in tourism revenue, 20 percent of which is projected to come from gastronomy. In 2018, tourism revenue is expected to climb to three trillion baht, with gastronomy accounting for 750 billion baht.

TAT, in early-2017, approved a budget of 144 million baht to commission the Michelin Guide to rate restaurants in Thailand for the five-year period 2017–2021. The first guide, Michelin Guide to Bangkok, was released on 6 December 2017. It bestowed Michelin stars on 17 Bangkok restaurants, ten of which do not serve Thai food.[48] Guides to other cities will follow.

In 2016, gastronomy was Thailand's fourth-largest tranche (20 percent) of tourism income, after accommodation (29 percent), transport (27 percent), and shopping and souvenirs (24 percent). TAT estimates that Chinese tourists spent 83.3 billion baht on food in Thailand in 2016, followed by Russians at 20.8 billion baht, Britons at 18.4 billion baht, Malaysians at 16.1 billion baht, and Americans at 13.9 billion baht.[49]

Elephant tourism

Elephant trekking has been an attraction for tourists in Thailand for decades. Ever since logging in Thailand was banned in 1989, elephants were brought into camps to put on shows for tourists and to give them rides. The Asian elephant is the main species found in elephant camps, being native to Thailand and found in the wild there. Despite this elephant being classified as endangered since 1986,[50] it continues to be an attraction for tourists.


In the early-1900s there were an estimated 100,000 domesticated or captive elephants in Thailand.[51][52] The majority of these elephants worked in the logging industry, dragging tree trunks. In 1989 the government banned logging in protected areas due to rampant deforestation—only around 30 percent of Thailand's forest remained.[53] Many mahouts were then unable to care for their elephants and left them in the wild. In the five years after the logging ban, tourism in Thailand rose by 28 percent. Elephants came back into demand and those with low economic value were placed into camps. The tourism boom gave elephants a place to work and be cared for. It increased their economic value. Today there are an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 domesticated elephants left in Thailand.[54]


Among animal rights groups there has been a growing concern over elephant welfare. Elephants in Thailand have fewer health problems than those in circuses, but often their health is not robust. Overall their welfare and treatment depends on how much money their mahouts make. Elephants in larger camps have been observed in better health that those in smaller camps. Baby elephants are highly valued as they are very popular among tourists.[54] Many mahouts thus mate their female elephants. Unfortunately, natural insemination and birthing is time consuming and expensive. An easy way around this is the illegal capture of baby elephants from wild herds. To be able to take a baby elephant from the herd, its mother needs to be killed as she will try to protect the infant. Baby elephants are then placed in artificial herds to please tourists. Elephants in these herds are often all from different provinces.[53]

Elephants can sustain injuries related to giving rides, or going on treks, with tourists. The elephant's spine is curved and not optimised to carry heavy loads. While they are able to carry up to 300 kilograms, they can only carry a maximum of 200 kilograms comfortably. When tourists ride two at a time they can weigh over that amount. The chairs or benches often used for the tourists to sit on upon the elephant can cause abrasions and chafing on the elephant's back, sides, and torso. During treks mahouts control the elephants with hooks and can use excessive force, resulting in puncture wounds.[54]


The law pertaining to domesticated elephants is the Beast of Burden Act 2482 B.E. (1939).[55] This act classifies elephants as draught animals along with horses, donkeys, and oxen. It allows domesticated elephants to be treated as private property. This act has no additional measures for animal welfare protection.[54] The Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act, B.E. 2535 (1992)[56] protects wild elephants, but excludes registered draught animals.[57]


Common training practices include being chained, cut, stabbed, burned and hit to varying degrees. Inexperienced mahouts are more likely to further harm their elephants and beat them into submission.[54] Hooks are the common tool used to discipline and guide an elephant during treks.[53]

Medical tourism

Medical tourism is a large and growing sector within Thailand's extensive tourism and healthcare industries. The country is attractive to potential medical tourists and international patients for a number of important reasons: Thailand was the first Asian country to achieve Joint Commission International (JCI) accreditation in 2002. As of April 2014, 35 hospitals were JCI-accredited.;[58] experienced, often Western-trained, medical professionals; the latest medical technology; and significantly lower costs of treatment when compared to corresponding procedures in the West. Taken together, all these factors—plus the country’s reputation as a popular tourist destination—have made Thailand one of the world's most popular medical tourism destinations.[59]

Some of the primary destinations for medical tourism in Thailand are Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hua Hin, Ko Samui, Pattaya/Chonburi, and Phuket.[60]

Foreigners seeking treatment for everything from open-heart surgery to gender reassignment have made Thailand's private hospitals the world's number one destination for medical tourism[citation needed], attracting an estimated 2.81 million patients in 2015, up 10.2 percent.[61] In 2013, medical tourists pumped as much as US$4.7 billion into the Thai economy, according to government statistics.[62]

Map of Thailand

See also

The Ho trai (temple library) of Wat Tung Sri Muang in Ubon Ratchathani
A woman of the Karen ethnic group
Grilled prawns are just one of the many dishes in Thai cuisine


Art and culture

Nature and sports




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