Pattaya, Thailand attracts millions of tourists each year, with 7.5 million visitors in 2014 (Amnatcharoenrit, 2014). While it does have gorgeous beaches, luxury shopping centres and an array of beautiful Buddhist temples, Pattaya is best known as the sex capital of Thailand for its red light district. Recently, the Thai government has shown a strong interest in eradicating the country’s sex industry. “We want Thailand to be about quality tourism. We want the sex industry gone” said Thailand’s Tourism Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul (Reuters, 2016).
Pattaya’s sex industry is intricate and multi-faceted, and eliminating the city’s red light district will take a lot of time and resources. Below are some of the issues that the Thai government needs to address in order to turn Pattaya into a luxury tourist destination.
Lack of data on the sex industry
According to a report by the World Travel and Tourism Council, Thailand’s tourism industry contributed to 19.3% of the country’s GDP in 2014, with the industry’s contribution forecasted to rise to 22.6% in 2015 (World Travel and Tourism Council, 2015: pg 1). Thailand attracts millions of tourists each year, with 29.8 million tourists in 2015 (Powerhouse Development Co., 2015), but what portion of those tourists are sex tourists? While there is no government data available on how much sex tourism contributes to the country’s GDP, a quick stroll down Pattaya’s Walking Street is evidence that sex tourism is alive and well.
It is important that the Thai government collects data on the sex industry (for example: nationalities/age of sex tourists, location, yearly revenue, etc). This will help the government better understand the issues on sex tourism in Thailand, and enable them to create and implement strategies that are specific to certain loca tions like Pattaya. Publishing the findings could also provide a framework for local and international NGOs, and give Thai people and tourists visiting Thailand a heightened awareness of the issue.
Blurred legal framework
Thailand’s current legal framework on the sex industry is quite vague and ill defined. The Penal Code Amendment Act prohibits Thai citizens from earning income as a prostitute, however the definition of a prostitute is unclear; the Prostitution Act uses phrases like “promiscuous manner” and “open and shameless manner (IMPOWR, n.d.).” Furthermore, if prostitution is illegal, then why are places like Pattaya’s Walking Street able to exist and operate? It is imperative that the legislation on prostitution must be refined so that the government can make concrete changes to the sex industry.
A report by UNAIDS estimated that in 2014, Thailand had 141,769 male and female sex workers (UNAIDS, 2015: pg 46). Getting rid of Thailand’s sex industry would mean the loss of jobs for thousands of Thai people, some of whom are the only source of income for their families. It is therefore important that the government provides sex workers the chance to learn skills that would help them become more employable, ex: English lessons, hospitality training, etc. By doing so, the manpower used and income generated from places like Pattaya can be distributed to other facets of Thailand’s tourism industry. NGOs such as Nightlight offer vocational courses for women in the Thailand’s sex industry, but stronger support from the Thai government would allow them to help more sex workers create a sustainable future for themselves.
Changing Pattaya’s infamous reputation
In an interview with Bangkok Post, Director of Pattaya’s Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Suladda Sarutilavan noted that shifting the city’s image in the minds of tourists would be a huge challenge. She noted that it was difficult to attract high quality tourists because many Europeans view Pattaya as a destination for nightlife and entertainment (Chinmaneevong, 2016).
The TAT’s plan is to create clear zoning areas throughout Pattaya to separate its tourists, with five star luxury hotels built in North Pattaya and Na Jomtien and South Pattaya maintaining its bustling nightlife and entertainment scene (Chinmaneevong, 2016). This strategy has worked successfully in the Philippines wherein popular beach destination Boracay is divided into three stations, with Station 1 being a quieter area reserved for high end resorts, Section 2 for middle class, affordable accommodation, and Station 3 for backpackers, large crowds and night clubs (Lonely Planet, n.d.).
Clear zoning, combined with effective location specific advertising similar to this one from Amazing Thailand, will allow Pattaya to become more structured, and attract more families and ‘quality’ tourists while issues with the sex industry are still being dealt with. Zoning will also allow other travellers to continue to enjoy Pattaya’s nightlife and entertainment freely.
Amnatharoenrit, B. (2014). Pattaya sees drop in 2014 tourists to 7m. Viewed 29/07/2016 http://www.nationmultimedia.com/business/Pattaya-sees-drop-in-2014-tourists-to-7m-30228975.html
Chinmaneevong, C. (2016). Pattaya hoteliers hit by low-season gloom. Viewed 25/07/16 http://www.bangkokpost.com/business/tourism-and-transport/1025477/pattaya-hoteliers-hit-by-low-season-gloom
IMPOWR. (n.d). Current Legal Framework: Prostitution in Thailand. Viewed 23/07/2016 http://www.impowr.org/content/current-legal-framework-prostitution-thailand
Lonely Planet. (n.d). Boracay, Philippines. Viewed 23/07/2016 https://www.lonelyplanet.com/philippines/the-visayas/boracay
Powerhouse Development Co. (2015). Thailand Tourism Statistics. Viewed 01/08/2016 http://powerhousedev.com/intl/thailand/tourism-stats
Reuters. (2016). Thailand’s sex industry under fire from tourism minister police. Viewed 28/07/2016 http://www.nationmultimedia.com/business/Pattaya-sees-drop-in-2014-tourists-to-7m-30228975.html
UNAIDS. (2015). Thailand AIDS Response Progress Report 2015. Viewed 21/07/2016 http://www.unaids.org/sites/default/files/country/documents/THA_narrative_report_2015.pdf
World Travel and Tourism Council. (2015). Travel & Tourism: Economic Impact 2015 THAILAND. Viewed 04/08/2015 https://www.wttc.org/-/media/files/reports/economic%20impact%20research/countries%202015/thailand2015.pdf