To start with the quote of the day. In response to a question asked in an interview with the Reuters news agency regarding the role the country’s sex industry played in drawing visitors to Thailand, Tourism Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul (note: the minister is a woman) was in complete denial and replied without hesitating:
Tourists don’t come to Thailand for such a thing. They come here for our beautiful culture.
That’s obviously a naive assumption at best. But what is more, she issues an open threat:
We want Thailand to be about quality tourism. We want the sex industry gone.
Wow. In other words, she wants to rid Thailand of its long-established sex industry which, surprise surprise, still largely caters to Thai males, not Western so-called sex tourists.
Because in fact, prostitution – in spite of not being “strictly legal” – has a lively and longer tradition in Thailand than modern-day mass or “sex” tourism and is deeply ingrained in its culture.
If the tourism minister was indeed successful with her foredoomed anti-vice campaign it’s Thai men who would go to the barricades first. Or let’s rather say, Thais would harness their creative talent in order to bypass any restrictive new rules that pose a threat to their accustomed way of life. Easy as that.
So let’s face it, her goal is simply unrealistic. But is it even desirable?
Once upon a time not so long ago, high season in Pattaya would last as long as five or six months each year, from November through March or even April. But that was then. In recent years, it appears, the peak season has gradually been getting shorter and shorter, with the biggest influx of visitors over the Christmas and New Year holiday period. In fact, we’d suggest that the nominal “high season” (or whatever remains of it these days) now only lasts from December to sometime late January or February. That’s it. The rest of the year is but one long low season, just with some months even lower than others.
So was the 2015-2016 peak season, in terms of numbers and turnover, a good season for Thailand? How well (or how badly) did Pattaya fare in particular? And what’s the outlook for the rest of 2016?
To answer the last question first: The Tourism Council of Thailand (TCT), a representative of tourism industry operators in the kingdom, is obviously as upbeat as ever, pointing out that foreign tourist arrivals had “shown an upward trend since the beginning of the year.” Earlier this week, the Bangkok Post quoted the TCT president as predicting that
[as] many as 33.83 million foreign tourists could visit Thailand in 2016, up 13.22% on the 29.8 million in 2015. (…)
A total of 8.81 million international arrivals were expected in the first quarter, up 12.23% year-on-year, and 7.82 million in the second quarter, or growth of 11.56% (…)
But is the optimism of Thai tourism officials justified? And was the bygone “high season” really that fantastic? To start with, let’s look at the arrival numbers for the first two months of the year, and then undertake a “reality check” and contrast the official arrival stats with the tourism situation on the ground. (Please scroll down to the bottom of this post for a complete breakdown of tourist arrivals by nationality for the first two months of 2016.)
Here’s a weird story that is funny on the face of it but may well open some kind of Pandora’s box – Thai social media users have reportedly uncovered a clip on a video sharing site that shows scantily clad ladyboys on Soi 6/1 in Pattaya as they explicitly offer their services to a foreign walker on his way to the beach.
Wow, you may think, these smart ass Thai internet spies have been as fast as the speed of light to uncover this particular gem. Because in fact, there are thousands and thousands of such videos posted on YouTube and similar sites. They have been there since the invention of digital cameras and the Internet.
Why? Because ladyboys, like them are not, are popular on the Internet, perhaps more popular than in the real world, and demand determines supply, full stop.
The clip in question, Pattaya One suggest, was originally posted on LiveLeak in 2013 by what appears to be an American national who lives on the Philippines and goes by the username “J Sukalamea”. The two-minute clip, sarcastically titled “A beautiful morning walk to the beach”, has since also been shared on YouTube where it has attracted more than 150,000 views. For what it’s worth, we’ve embedded it at the bottom of this post so you can judge for yourselves. (Why are we sure you will scroll down now? Lol.)
As for Thai internet users who discussed the controversial clip on unnamed “social media channels” (we presume it was some Thai-language Facebook page), guess what, their reactions weren’t just “mixed”. Pattaya One reports that in fact, “many condemned the foreign video-maker for posting the video instead of condemning the actions of the ladyboys.” Huh. Bit like shooting the messenger, ain’t it?
Coconuts Bangkok quote a Thai channel that reposted the clip on Facebook as commenting:
This is not truth in Thailand. You tourists make Thailand look bad because you choose to go to places like this and never experience the real normal Thai community.
These places are dirty and all you see is foreigners and prostitutes everywhere. You ever wonder why normal Thai people are not there. That’s because we are not dumb. Don’t ever think that this is normal Thailand.