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News Article

Thailand aims to attract more female tourists


The Tourism Authority of Thailand is trying to attract more women to visit the country as its reputation as a sex tourism destination still attracts a disproportionate number of men. Attempting to rid the country of its sleazy image, Thailand is looking to develop niche markets and encouraging more women to visit.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand is trying to attract more women to visit the country as its reputation as a sex tourism destination still attracts a disproportionate number of men. Attempting to rid the country of its sleazy image, Thailand is looking to develop niche markets and encouraging more women to visit.

The sex clubs, strip clubs and prostitution in Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket are a magnet for sex tourists and widespread coverage of the trend has put many women off visiting the country, reports the UK's Observer newspaper.

The Thai tourist board first recognised the imbalance five years ago, when a survey showed that just 35 per cent of visitors were women, and it embarked on a marketing campaign aimed at encouraging more to visit. Since then the figures have become slightly more balanced. In 2004, 40 per cent of the 600,000 UK visitors were female.

"Sex tourism is such a small, avoidable part of Thailand. The country is so suitable for females. Its religion is Buddhism so it's very relaxed and it's safe to travel around," says a spokesman quoted in the Observer. The authority hopes both more single women and those with families would book trips to Thailand.

"There are a lot of holidays here that women would enjoy: there's adventure travel and beaches; but it's also a great destination for spa, health, shopping and cookery holidays with specialist operators," said the spokesman.

Sex tourism in Thailand

Michel (2003) reports that of the 9 million tourists visiting Thailand in 2000, there were 65-70% men, including many sex tourists. As well as westerners, Chinese and Japanese men and even Israeli women were reported as visiting the country for sex, with an estimated 10% of 15- to 29-year-old women in cities being prostitutes. Michel suggests that the sex industry brings over $20 billion to the Thai economy, which is over 10% of GNP. These figures are supported by a 1998 ILO (International Labour Organization) report, which also highlights the dependence of poor rural areas on the industry; in Thailand, close to US$300 million is transferred annually to rural families by women working in the sex sector in urban areas, a sum that in many cases exceeds the budgets of government-funded development programmes.

Prideaux et al. (2004) discuss how Thailand's preferred image as an exotic destination is overshadowed by the unofficial image as a location for erotic activities. They discuss measures that may be implemented to reduce negative impacts associated with Thailand's reputation for sex tourism.

Tourists are not the only cause of the sex industry in Thailand; indeed Michel states how prostitution first exists due to local demand, and is only made worse by foreign sex tourists. Montgomery (2001) also argues that tourism is only one of several variables causing child prostitution in Thailand, and that tourism alone does not necessarily promote the sexual exploitation of children. But sex tourism affects the international reputation of the country, and can hinder it's attempts to develop other sectors of tourism and the economy.

Development of other tourist sectors

To try and change Thailand's image as a sex tourism destination, and develop income that can reduce the importance of the sex industry to the economy, Traveldailynews.com has reported how Thailand is focusing its marketing strategies on other niche-market visitors to help meet its target of 20 million visitors a year by 2008. The expected arrivals in 2004 are 12 million.

Four of the niche markets showing extensive potential are shopping, golf, wellness, fashion and film-making; several of these markets are also key to the goal of increasing the proportion of female visitors.

These sectors are already well-developed. In 2003, 28% of total tourist spending was spent on shopping, and Thailand currently attracts about 350,000 golfers a year. Among the fast-growing health and wellness tourist sector, a report conducted by Intelligent Spas places Thailand as the top spa destination in Asia.

A well-organized marketing strategy can contribute to the national economy as well as to the tourism industry (Tourism Authority of Thailand, 2002). With visitor numbers this year around 23% up on the last despite avian influenza outbreaks, the Tourism Authorities plans so far appear to be working. The goal is to develop niche markets, health and sports tourism, and low-season tourism in the hope that Thailand's reputation as a sex tourism centre, and the importance of this to the economy, can be left behind.

Links

International Labour Organization

Traveldailynews.com

Tourism Authority of Thailand

Michel, F. Sex tourism in Thailand. A prostitution between extreme poverty and globalization. Téoros, Revue de Recherche en Tourisme, 2003, Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 22-28

Prideaux, B.; Agrusa, J.; Donlon, J. G.; Curran, C. Exotic or erotic - contrasting images for defining destinations. Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 5-17

Montgomery, H. Child sex tourism in Thailand. In Harrison, D. (Editor). Tourism and the less developed world: issues and case studies, 2001, pp. 191-201

Tourism Authority of Thailand. Amazing Thailand Tourism Plan. Marketing Papers - World Tourism Organization, 2002, No. 1, pp. 107-120

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