Tourism in Thailand


Case Number: 336

Case Mnemonic: THAITOUR

Case Name: Thailand Tourism


1. The Issue "It is easy to see why Thailand has become the most popular tourist destination in South East Asia. Visually stunning, it sums up quixotic images of every man's Asia: gilded temples, lush paddy fields, exotic foods and gracious, smiling people. Land of Smiles is a common description of Thailand"(1). Thailand has much to offer - from beautiful white sand beaches in the South to trekking among the hill tribes in the North. The increasing ease and inexpensive price of traveling to and within Thailand, has led to a major increase in the number of tourists flocking to this Southeast Asian nation annually. Unfortunately The negative environmental, cultural, and biological impact of tourism in Thailand is increasing, as the government has been fairly lax in dealing with the numerous problems.


Thailand is a country with a population of roughly 60 million people and a land size of 513,115 square-kilometers, or the equivalent of France (2). Originally a tourist destination for mainly adventurous backpackers traveling on a budget and in search of untouched, pristine locations, the increasing ease and decreasing expense of travel, combined with a growing public relations blitz to increase tourism to the country has resulted in ever growing numbers of visitors annually. This has led to a concomitant growth in the necessary accoutrements of the tourist industry such as lodging, eating and entertainment facilities, luxury resorts and golf courses (3).

Tourism has become Thailand's leading source of foreign exchange, and thus plays an unquestionably important role in the Thai economy. 5.3 million tourists visited the country in 1990, a figure that is expected to double in the next four years. In 1989 the industry generated 91 million baht or US$3.64 billion, and it is believed that figure will reach 800 billion baht or US$32 billion by the year 2000 (4). At the same time,Thailand is suffering from many of the negative aspects of tourism, including "prostitution, drug addiction, AIDS, erosion of traditional values, increases in the cost of living, unequal income distribution, rapid increases in land prices in some locations, pollution, and environmental degradation" (5). From the destruction of coral and marine life due to water activities such as boating and scuba diving, and waste dumping by hotels and restaurants, as well as the uncontrolled building of tourist facilities on islands such as Koh Samui, Koh Phang nan and Phuket, to the deterioration of local culture in the hill tribes of the North, to the slavery of young children and women in the prostitution industry that has led to the rampant spread of AIDS, Thailand can be seen as fast approaching a crisis situation. The destruction that has been wrought, particularly in the South, has led to growing demands for environmental projects, plans and protection. Many of these programs, however, can be seen as too little too late, and are in many cases overlooked for economic reasons.

Tourism in Thailand is seen as being concentrated in small, specific areas such as the beaches of the South and the more mountainous region of the North. This has led to very intense exploitation of the resources within these regions (6). Development within these regions was neither carefully planned nor monitored, so that within ten years the beautiful beaches and picturesque villages of the islands of Koh Samui and Phuket have been overrun by concrete bungalows and hotels, video and 'girlie' bars, shooting ranges and golf courses. The influx of what has been termed 'mass' tourism has caused the more discerning tourist to look for more pristine, less developed spots, leading to the spread of the Koh Samui syndrome to other islands. Koh Phi Phi, a national park, has within a very short time begun to follow the same path as Samui, regardless of its designation as a protected area. The island of Phuket has long been an upscale version of Koh Samui, for tourists with a larger budget and for wealthy Thais on vacation. The island is known for its fancy resorts and renowned yacht club and marina. Koh Samui offers an example of the negative effects that have been and will be visited upon the southern islands of Thailand due to tourism. Koh Samui is 250 square kilometers, with an estimated 1.1 million tourists visiting every year by the end of the century. The tourism boom to this island began at the end of the 1980s, and was aided by the establishment of a daily ferry service, the construction of a small airport with regular flights from Bangkok, extension of the road system, and the continued construction of bungalows and hotels which now number over 220 (7).

"Unfortunately, the very fragile coastal, marine and small island environment upon which tourism has been built has come under increasing pressure as a result of the largely uncontrolled, and hardly anticipated, tourism boom. The phenomenal amount of construction work which has taken place over the last decade or so has, in the main, proceeded unbridled by planning controls. Such building restrictions that exist have been largely ignored, often quite willfully. As a result, the coastal landscape, so important an element of the aesthetic environment, has in places been changed quite dramatically" (8).

The marine environment has suffered equally, from the destruction of coral by anchors and scuba divers, as well as pollution from the motor boats and the continuous dumping of untreated waste that is pumped into the sea by the resorts along the shore. A Thai newspaper reported that the island cannot effectively cope with 75% of the waste that is created each day. This 75% is "burned, buried or dumped at sea" (9). The island is increasingly suffering from water as well as power shortages. A 1989 conservation plan undertaken by the Tourism Authority of Thailand and the National Environment Board to improve public utilities and environmental preservation measures through 63 development projects was implemented in 1992 (10). From personal experience however, the island had noticeably deteriorated from 1992 to 1995. Chaweng beach, the main tourist destination, is no longer a pretty sight. The main road, once relatively peaceful with long black stretches of undeveloped land interspersed with local markets, a few restaurants, bars and stores, is now alight with the glowing neon of 'girlie' bars, tattoo parlors, tourist shops, a continuous selection of restaurants, some monstrous discotheques and the constant honking and screeching of the endless number of taxi pickup trucks that will take you anywhere along the strip for some $.30 US. The recommendation for conservation areas on the islands of Koh Samui, Phuket and Koh Pha-ngan has yet to be implemented. These three islands are becoming more and more overdeveloped, pushing more tourists on to new, less developed islands such as Krabi Beach, Koh Tao and Koh Phi Phi.

The overflow of tourists to the town of Pattaya, which received three million visitors in 1989, led to a faecal contamination increase of 87% from 1977 to 1987. This pushed the Thai government to suspend tourist development in nineteen national parks, and to construct artificial coral reefs to counteract marine damage by tourists and fishermen using explosives (11). On June 4 1992 the National Environmental Act was passed, but was beyond the means of the country to implement in the way of domestic skills and manpower. The environmental degradation taking place in relation to tourism is credited to such possible explanations as lack of information and technology, lack of skills by Thai planners in the field of 'recreation management', lack of authority for proper implementation, lack of coordination among government officials and departments, lack of long term thinking and planning and lack of resources. Also inhibiting environmental protection are: the power of economic gain over all other concerns, as well as corruption in government and the predominance of outside ownership of tourist facilities, who do not have as vested an interest in the long term condition of the location as they are more free to get up and move when the tourists leave (12). Most tourism business owners are outsiders who emigrated to the island after tourism boomed. Some local residents even pessimistically commented that business owners do not realize the importance of environment conservation because they just came to make profit. When the island is totally destroyed and cannot give benefits to them anymore, they will leave.

Along with the environmental devastation wreaked by tourism, there is also the economic effect upon poor Thais who in no way benefit - in fact suffer from the growth of tourism. Many local fishermen and their families have been forcibly removed from coastal areas to make room for new hotels and restaurants. Most of the villagers on Koh Muk, an island near Haad Chao Mai national park in Trang province, have been pushed back into the mangrove forests to make room for tourist lodgings. The villagers never owned the land, but they never needed to, until land speculators came with bills of sale from local land officials in the city. Once free to fish as they chose, these villagers now face an unsure future (13).

As such a major source of revenue, the tourism industry is very important to Thailand. The continued degradation of the environment, however, will in the long run cause the tourists to choose other destinations that are more pristine, depriving Thailand of valued tourist dollars. Thus, to promote tourism into the future, greater efforts must be made to implement environmentally sustainable tourist policies and programs.


Another important issue related to tourism in Thailand is prostitution and the growth of the sex trade to satisfy foreign travelers, many of whom come to Thailand on sex tour package trips. This phenomena began in the 1960s mainly with American soldiers stationed in Vietnam who came to Thailand for R&R vacations. In the early 1980s the number of Thai prostitutes was estimated at 1 million; there were 400,000 more women than men in Bangkok, the country's capital, and 89% of all tourists were male (14). The World Health Organization estimated that between 45, 000 to 50, 000 Thais had AIDS in 1989, and that possibly one out of every two prostitutes in the Northern region was infected with the disease. The AIDS problem, as well as the prostitution issue was left untouched for many years for fear of harming the tourism industry. The growing recognition, however, of the long term effects of such a policy has led to greater efforts to curb sex tourism and to initiate AIDS education and precautionary measures such as distributing condoms and issuing health cards (15).

3. Related Cases

CUBA case



Keyword Clusters

(1): Trade Product =TOURism

(2): Bio-geography =TROPICAL

(3): Environmental Problem =General (HABITAT)

4. Draft Author: Tamara Kruger 6/25/96

B. Legal Clusters

5. Discourse and Status: DISagreement and INPROgress

6. Forum and Scope: THAILAND and UNILATeral

7. Decision Breadth: 1 (Thailand)

8. Legal Standing: LAW

Increasing concern over the environmental effects of tourism have led to the recognition of the need for proper legislation. The Thai government has taken steps in this direction in the 1990s. The government is working on establishing a 'multi-agency task force' that would hopefully eliminate the overlap and confusion among the many departments playing a role in tourism issues. The national park system has increased to 34, 503 square kilometers. However, much of the new legislation has yet to be successfully implemented, due to pressure from members of the industry, and the fear of harming the economic benefits reaped from this industry (16). Thus many of the islands designated as national parks have continued to see tourist development.

C. Geographic Clusters

9. Geographic Locations

a. Geographic Domain: ASIA

b. Geographic site: SEAsia

c. Geographic Impact: THAILAND

10. Sub-National Factors: NO

11. Type of Habitat: TROPical

D. Trade Clusters

12. Type of Measure: Regulatory Standards

13. Direct vs. Indirect Impacts: INDirect

14. Relation of Measure to Environmental Impact

a. Directly related: YES TOURism

b. Indirectly Related: NO

c. Not Related: NO

d. Process related: YES Habitat

15. Trade Product Identification: TOURism

16. Economic Data

Tourism is the largest foreign exchange earner for Thai trade. It can thus be seen as important and useful for economic growth and development. It is important to ask, however, exactly who it is that benefits. Many locals are edged or forced out by government or foreign entities interested and able to pay for the construction of tourist facilities. Oftentimes local fishermen and the like lose their land and their way of life. Many women can find jobs only in the sex tourism industry and face the daily possibility of contracting AIDS. Tourism has been and will continue to be responsible in large part for Thai economic growth and development, but it is also responsible for environmental and cultural deterioration.

17. Impact of Measure on Trade Competitiveness: LOW

18. Industry Sector: Services (S)

19. Exporter and Importer: MANY and THAILAND

The largest group of foreign tourists to visit Thailand in 1990 were Malaysian (804 629), Japanese (635 555), and Taiwanese (480 896). These three Asian countries were followed by the U.K., Australia, Germany and the U.S, in the number of tourists that travelled to Thailand that year (17).


20. Environmental Problem Type: Habitat Loss (HABITAT)

21. Name, Type and Diversity of Species

Name: MANY

Type: MANY

Diversity: THAILAND

22. Impact and Effect: LOW and STRUCTURE

23. Urgency and Lifetime: MEDIUM and long-term

24. Substitutes: ECOtourism

VI. OTHER Factors

25. Culture: YES

26. Trans-Border: NO

27. Rights: NO

28. Relevant Literature

Ekachai, Sanitsuda. Behind The Smile. Bangkok: Thai Development Support Committee,1991

Hall, Colin Michael. Tourism in the Pacific Rim: Development, Impacts and Markets. Melbourne: Longman Cheshire Pty Ltd. 1994

Hitchcock, Michael, Victor T. King and Michael J.G. Parnwell, eds. Tourism in Southeast Asia. London: Routledge, 1993.

Meyer, Walter. Beyond the Mask. Fort Lauderdale: Verlag breitenbach Publishers, 1988.

Osborne, Christine. Essential Thailand. Hampshire:The Publishing Division of The Automobile Association, 1990.

Richter, Linda K. The Politics of Tourism in Asia. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1989.


1. Osborne, p.4

2. Parkes, p.537

3. Hall, p.94

4. Ibid, p.96

5. Ibid, p.9.

6. Parnwell, p.288

7. Ibid, p.289

8. Ibid, p.298

9. Ibid, p.290

10. Ibid, p.291

11. Hall, p.103

12. Parnwell, p.294

13. Ekachai. p.89 Ibid, 295.

14. Hitchcock, p.155

15. Richter, p.87

16. Hall, p.103

17. Ibid, p.94.

17. Ibid, p.103

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