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Sustainability of the Thai Tourism Industry


By Kanthima Kanthima

In the last decade, Thailand has enjoyed a surge in its tourism industry, constantly finding itself on top of many travel recommendation websites. According to USA Today, the country’s capital was recorded to be the most geo-tagged location on Instagram just two years ago.

With slightly more than 20 percent of the country’s revenue being indirectly affected by tourism, and the industry contributing to 9 percent of the nation’s GDP in 2013, this field is certainly impacting the Land of Smiles in far more ways than simply finances.

Implications of tourism

Granted that the booming tourism industry ensures that the country is sitting on a thick financial cushion, but too much of something is never good. With the influx of a myriad of tourists, from shopaholics to nature lovers, one cannot turn a blind eye to how this degree of reliance on tourism may affect the country and her people.

Along with financial prosperity, Thailand has also seen her fair share of woes. Recent political instability has shaken the entire nation’s economy, especially so for tourism. Concerned travelers are beginning to rethink if Thailand’s shopping, food and beaches are worth the risk, and CNBC’s 2015 Top Asian Destinations clearly reflects this. On home ground, knowing that tourists pay good money for novelties like elephant rides or a visit to Thailand’s infamous red light districts pushes the ethical boundaries of the locals. Such attitudes on both fronts see Thailand experience the consequences of mass tourism.

With heavy dependence on tourism, these implications may rock the seemingly sturdy boat of Thailand’s tourism industry and, in turn, the entire nation’s economy. Yet, to ensure that this lucrative field holds strong through the storms of the coming years, one ought to look into the concept of sustainable tourism.

Sustainable tourism

Exploring the idea of sustainable tourism not only secures the success of this industry in the long run, but it also allows for positive impacts to be made on the society and environment of Thailand, apart from the economy. Be it medical or educational tourism, this gem of the Indochina peninsula can only reap benefits from sustainable tourism. 

  • Educational tourism

Boasting a strong artistic culture, Thailand produces countless artists ranging from those who specialize in the fine arts to street art. This notion is known far and wide across the globe, and many flock to this creative country for body art – tattoos. The increasing fame of Thailand as a hub for this has seen tattoo enthusiasts entering the country to learn from the best.

Institutions like Tattoo School Thailand are seeing more and more learners enroll in courses to pick up tattooing. What may seem like a secular phenomenon is in fact a form of educational tourism, which the country can look at expanding.

Educational tourism has also seen diving schools offering packages to travelers interested in attaining diving certifications at locally-run resorts. This gives tourists the chance to experience what Thailand’s marine life has to offer while locals earn from offering various services from boat rides to conducting the course. This in addition to countless culinary schools where tourists can enroll in basic courses of Thai culinary -- taking back home with them a lifelong souvenir that can be easily shared at family and social events.

  •  Ecotourism

Thailand is teeming with lush greenery and wildlife. With many multinational resorts setting their sights on the untouched beaches of the country, Thailand finds herself navigating tricky waters as she juggles maintaining the tourism industry that she relies on so greatly and retaining the wonderful works nature has bestowed on her.

Nonprofit environmental organizations based in many scenic locations of the country have come up with a possible solution: Offering the adventurous an opportunity of a lifetime to experience the raw beauty of Thailand through activities like living in cultural villages, these organizations ensure that these accommodations are constructed with protecting the environment and locals in mind.

  •  Volunteer tourism

Be it a gap year or sabbatical from work, Thailand offers more than just city living, shopping, eating and sun-tanning. Many who look at sustainable tourism are offering travelers the opportunity to volunteer and give back during their trip to Thailand. From teaching English to assisting in a project to build a well for small villages, tourists can leave a positive impact on Thailand apart from their carbon footprint.

  •  Medical tourism

Being the first Asian nation to attain Joint Commission Internal (JCI) accreditation in 2002 makes Thailand a favorite for those seeking medical attention; be it open-heart surgery or gender reassignment. The advancement of the country’s medical technology, coupled with lower premiums, are proving to be a major pull factor -- attracting more than 1.8 million foreign visitors in 2013 alone.

These features give the world more reasons to pay a visit to Thailand apart from leisure alone. Not only does it boost the country’s economy, the increasing demand created by medical tourism inevitably attracts more overseas medical practitioners hoping to set up shop in Thailand for a piece of the pie as well.


To sum it all up, while many agree that Thailand has without a doubt made a name for herself as a top travel destination, industry players and policy makers ought to give some thought to its sustainability. Although mass tourism has boosted the economy over the past years, one might want to look around at the social and environmental effects that it has had on the country. Therefore, in order for the industry to continue to flourish without implicating on its natural resources – people, culture, nature – investing in the various forms of sustainable tourism might just be the way to go from here.

Image credit: Flickr/Mike Behnken

Kanthima Kanthima is the owner and CEO of a Thailand Tattoo School. Aside from running this tattoo school, she is also constantly contributing to various discussions of sustainability in her hometown of Hua Hin and her country, Thailand.

3p Contributor

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