Why are Thailand commercials so powerful

Tourism in Thailand

Thailand recorded a total of 40 million tourists in 2019, ranking 13th in the world in absolute terms.

Without taking the size of the country into account, such a ranking may not be very informative. If you convert the number of tourists to the inhabitants of Thailand, the picture is somewhat more comparable: With 0.57 tourists per inhabitant, Thailand was 98th in the world. In Southeast Asia, it was 5th behind Laos.

Thailand generated around 58.13 billion euros in the tourism sector alone in 2019. This corresponds to 11.97 percent of the gross domestic product and around 42 percent of all international tourism income in Southeast Asia.

You can find a worldwide comparison here ›International Tourism


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Most popular destinations in Thailand

5 cities in Thailand are among the top 100 most popular destinations worldwide. In 2019, Bangkok reached 2nd place with 25.85 million tourists. According to Euromonitor, all foreign tourists with at least one overnight stay were counted.



On average, each of the tourists who arrived in 2019 spent around 1,456 euros. Conversely, the residents of Thailand only spend around 1,441 euros annually when they go on vacation abroad.

About a third of all foreign guests come from the industrialized nations of Asia and Australia. Popular destinations in Thailand are mainly:
  • The capital Bangkok with the Royal Palace, large shopping malls and numerous temples
  • Phuket in the south of the country including the surrounding islands such as Ko-Phi-Phi
  • The former capitals Ayutthaya and Sukhothai with the rouins of the former royal palaces
  • Chiang Mai in the northwest of the country
  • Pattaya, about 150 km south-east of Bangkok with countless bars and leisure activities

US troops as a trigger for mass tourism

Thailand recorded the greatest growth in tourism and thus the beginning of the travel boom in the early 1970s during and after the Vietnam War. Up to 45,000 US soldiers were stationed in Thailand at that time and also spent their vacations in the country. In the course of just a few years, the 7 US military bases were expanded into R&R sectors ("Rest & Recreation"), in which those soldiers who were stationed in other regions of Southeast Asia also spent their holidays at the front. Even today, joint military maneuvers with up to 10,000 soldiers annually take place in Thailand.

After the withdrawal of the US troops, the country became known for its friendly population, beautiful beaches - but also for its prostitution. Since long-haul flights used to be considerably more expensive, the tourists of the time initially only came from neighboring countries. The first long-term guests were the well-known hippies and backpackers who experienced an almost untouched Thailand. The most famous example of this is the full moon party on the island of Ko Pha-ngan, which began in the 1980s. What was initially just a private party grew into a permanent event with several hundred participants in the years to come. Today one speaks of the most famous party in Asia, which annually attracts more than 30,000 tourists. Although the now commercial mass event still has the reputation of backpackers, hippies and dropouts, the audience has in fact been predominantly young people from all strata of the international population for years.

Environmental problems caused by mass tourism

A country with 70 million inhabitants and over 40 million tourists annually also has to contend with serious environmental problems. Although there are considerable financial resources with tourists in the country, where there are tourists, not only do mountains of rubbish arise in the tourist areas, but also polluted forests, drinking water problems and much more crowded natural space. With the development of countless diving areas, numerous coral reefs and with them the habitat of many fish were destroyed. With the 2020/21 season practically canceled due to the corona pandemic, nature had the opportunity to recover a bit after many years.

Development of the tourism sector in Thailand from 1995 to 2019

The graph below shows the number of foreign tourists registered in Thailand each year. A tourist is anyone who spends at least one night in the country but does not live there for more than 12 months. To the extent that the survey also included the purpose of travel, business travel and other non-tourism purposes have already been filtered out. The number of people passing through within the same day and, for example, crew members of ship or aircraft crews, is also not regarded as a tourist purpose in most countries. If the same person travels in and out several times within a year, each visit counts again.

Figures in the chart in millions of tourists. The red line corresponds to the average of all 11 countries in Southeast Asia.


Development of tourism income

In 1995 the income from tourism was 6.78 billion euros, around 5.5 percent of the gross national product. With around 6.95 million tourists at the time, this corresponded to around 976 euros per person. Within 24 years, the country's dependence on tourism has increased dramatically. In the last year of the survey, sales now account for EUR 58.13 billion, 11.97 percent of the gross national product. So today every visitor spends an average of 1,456 euros on his vacation in Thailand.



All data for Thailand in detail



All data correspond to the information of the World Tourism Organization.

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