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Sex Tourism in Thailand: Advantages and Disadvantages

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Tourism
Wordcount: 3396 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Background information and brief history about the sex industry in Thailand

Nowadays, with a more and more globalised world, tourism has become one of the largest global industries, and thus, becoming one of the leading resources for economic growth in many countries. This tourism development has led to several impacts on numerous destinations, being these both positive and negative. While some countries are daily visited because of their tourist attractions, culture or even their gastronomy, such as Perú or Italy, other countries are widely well-known for their availability and easy accessibility of commercial sex, for example, Thailand or Amsterdam. The accessibility problem of the tourism industry has caused prostitution to grow progressively throughout many parts of the world. Countries receiving tourists for the main purpose of sex are spread all over the world, even in more places than people would think of. You can find them in Europe, North America, the Caribbean, Latin America, Asia, Africa, Australia or Oceania (Oppermann, 1999). In conclusion, mostly, everywhere. This dark sector of the tourism industry has received the name of “Sex Tourism” and has been defined “as trips organized from within the sector, or from outside this sector but using its structures and networks with the primary purpose of effecting a commercial sexual relationship by the tourist with the residents in the destination” (UNWTO, 1995). As mentioned above, sex represents a significant tourist attraction in many countries. Countless individuals from developed continents, such a, Europe and North America, travel to exotic locations with the intention of experiencing and exploring the excitement and novelty of the unknown (Jones, 2006). Therefore, many tourists arrive in different destinations seeking or even not knowing that they are unconsciously looking and desiring to engage in sexual activity with the local population.

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Thailand is known for many things: their food, beaches, temples, culture, and its chaotic and crazy capital, Bangkok, but it is also known for a couple more things – prostitution and sex-related activities. These last things have caused many issues to Thailand, placing it as the sex capital of the world, and therefore, giving it a negative image and terrible disadvantage when competing with other destinations.

This reputation is not new for Thailand. The real beginning of sex tourism in the country is linked to the Vietnam War when nearly 40,000 American service members, or militaries started visiting Thailand in order to seek “rest and recreation” (R&R) (Hitchcock,2008). Prostitution was clearly associated with the American Military (Jeffrey, 2003) and Thailand became a “sexual paradise” (Li & Zhang, 1997) during those years.

Today, the majority of tourists chose Thailand as a sex destination because they believe it is easily obtainable there. Travellers can check for themselves that actually, In Bangkok, sex is available at a low price almost in every corner and therefore, reinforcing their already installed destination image. Sorrowfully, prostitution is not the only concern in Thailand, there are many more sexual activities, such as human trafficking and child sex work.

Significance and Scope of the Report

The purpose of this report is to analyse and link the term “sex tourism” to one particular country out of the many one’s suffering from it, Thailand, which many would say it is one of the most popular destinations, if not the most, for those seeking for a sexual experience or encounter. This paper will also focus on the advantages and disadvantages of sex tourism in Thailand and argue about how tourists, businesses, and host destinations are impacted by the issue.

Sources of Information

All of the information on which this report is based was retrieved from the University of Queensland’s library, which included various articles from journal articles (most of them peer reviewed), reports, essays and even University Thesis.


Tourism can have several impacts on a destination. When a country opens up to the world, it inevitably goes through a series of changes, good and bad. Therefore, sex tourism in a host destination has huge impacts not only on the people suffering from it, but also on tourists, businesses, residents, and the government itself. The consequences of sexual tourism are varied and abundant.

The implications of sex tourism in Thailand will be divided into two categories: Benefits and Negative effects.


International tourism plays a big role in host destinations. It is well-known that tourism is a key industry that can have substantial and positive impacts on the economy of a country, thus, being a key engine of economic growth.

 “The main components of sex tourism are travel, sex and financial exchange” (Günther, 1998). Sex tourism is presently an increasing, multibillion-dollar phenomenon. So, it is no surprise its utilisation as a major income generator in many countries, particularly those which are still developing and have poor and disadvantaged segments. Thailand, which is currently classified as a developing country, has used this type of tourism not only to generate a huge amount of foreign exchange but also to produce large profits for local industrialists, travel businesses, and tourist and leisure establishments such as hotels, restaurants and bars as it provides jobs for the locals by attracting large quantities of tourists every year. Sex tourism has proven to be a major income generator for Thailand. Kinnarid and Hall (1994) pointed out that prostitution in Thailand has developed into a money-spinning business that influences employment and national income and contributes considerably to the region’s economic development. There is no doubt that prostitution and sexploitation have proven to be a profitable business. Thailand’s revenue comes from sex tourism more than other businesses (Rao, 1999: Sharpley & Stone, 2009). Therefore, it can be concluded that there are many corporations involved that support the illegal activities conducted due to the fact that they could lose a lot of capital if this industry was banned or eliminated.

  • Moreover, poverty is a crucial factor that contributes to the sex industry’s continued growth and proliferation. Due to this poorness, many individuals decide to migrate into cities from the countryside. This migration is strongly conducted with the intention of finding better jobs and opportunities. Furthermore, it is also reinforced by the thought that there are better chances of success in big cities rather than in their poor, undeveloped, rural areas, where they will only perform hard, labour work and receive low wages in return. Many females are attracted to prostitution and to the sex industry because it is perceived as an easy way to earn money, providing better-paid opportunities for them (Nuttavuthisit, 2007). Otherwise, their other only choice would be, as mentioned above, spend their life working in more tough and inflexible jobs such as domestic work or labour. Culture is another factor for ladies agreeing to participate in the sex trade. Phonpaichit (1982) explained that many sex workers in Thailand were engaged in the business to work off their families’ debts and to sustain their family units in a rural economy. Women in Thailand have a lower social status than men. This is due to their religion, Buddhism, which considers men as more valuable. This inequality leads to insufficient job opportunities available for women, so, in order to gain a reasonable amount of money to support their households they ultimately enter the prostitution and sex industry.

Related to the poverty and the issue of inequality discussed earlier, another benefit which brings sex tourism into Thailand is the generation of jobs and opportunities for the local.

In the early years, Thailand even used sex tourism as a way to promote their destination worldwide. With the increase in tourism comes an increase in the demand for services and this results in a growing expansion of the sex industry. If demand grows, more people are needed to fill in the jobs so, males and females are employed from sex industries such as restaurants, bars, hotels, massage spas, etc. The US Department of State Human Rights Report (2005) estimated that there where 200,000-300,000 sex workers in Thailand at that time, meaning that by now, 2019 those numbers should be bigger. It has been argued by some people that sex tourism benefits not only the sex industry but also the airline, taxi, restaurant and hotel industries (Jones, 1946). In other words, Jones meant that with more tourists comes more consumption of services. In the network of sex tourism not only the sex tourists obtain a benefit, but also several businesses and residents acquire profits from it.

Finally, Thailand has already earned a reputation for providing cheap and exotic sex for travellers. Tourists travel to poor countries seeking for these experiences because it is very affordable for them. Paying in Thailand will be much cheaper than paying for the same services in their home-countries.



On the other hand, sex tourism has generated heavy effects on Thailand. Several negative impacts have been arising with the passing of time. Not only it has damaged Thailand’s image, but it has also made Thailand infamous as “the world’s biggest brothel” (Jeffery, 2003). This kind of image results in many types of tourist choosing other destinations over Thailand. Families or older tourists for example, may feel like it is insecure or unworthy. This negative image is sustained by the corrupt law administration that permits and facilitates commercial sex services to thrive in the country. Corruption is an important political cause of the sex trade. Although it is supposedly illegal to sell sexual services in Thailand, many high-level policeman, and high officers such as politicians, accept bribes from traffickers and sex industry related businessman (Tarancon, 2013). One example of this is an incidence that occurred in July 2003, where fifty police officers in the Bangkok Metropolitan police Department were taken off active duty for accepting bribes from brothels (Tarancon, 2013).

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Another strong and worrying issue happening in Thailand due to sex tourism is the increasingly blooming of AIDS. Booranapim and Mainwaring (2002) noted that Thailand was one of the first Asian countries to be affected by AIDS such as HIV, with the first case being diagnosed in 1987. By 1997, there were an estimated 800,000 people in Thailand infected with HIV, the majority being commercial sex workers and their clients (UNAIDS, 1997). Subsequently, many sex workers and sex clients contract AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, also known as STD’s. Tourists and clients of any sex-related activity, risk to also and also transmit the disease, in case they have one, to their partner. This is not the only concern for tourists, some of them could also get in problems if they get caught, leading to high jail sentences or other convictions.

Often linked to the organized criminal enterprise (Interpol, 2013), sex tourism has been implicated as a driver of human (sex) trafficking (EPCAT, 2006, 2008; Walters and Davis, 2011),


The Thai government should definitely put their focus and money into investing to improve their whole anti sex-trade system and furthermore, help decrease sex trafficking in their country.

To begin with, the recommendations given will be divided into three sections; in the first place, the Political recommendations will offer some solutions to cutback corruption and improve the execution of the law in the court system and weak governance in Thailand; on the second place, there will be Economic recommendations that will recommend some advice within how to lower poverty, and creating and enforcing the openness of more job opportunities for women by, at the same time, providing them more career training; and, finally, the Socio-cultural recommendations will advise on giving a better education for women, and using mass media to show Thailand’s actual alarming situation globally, and, therefore, promoting support from other countries to implement change in Thailand.

Political recommendations:

The political recommendations will offer some solutions to cutback corruption and improve the execution of the law in the court system and weak governance in Thailand.

To begin with, the Thai government should increase its employees’ salaries. When you increase a salary, you motivate the individual to do a better job and additionally, you reduce their susceptibility to bribery from traffickers. A clear illustration of this is the actual low salaries that government officials receive, tempting them to accept money from other sources in order to have a better income, and therefore, living. Additionally, for those who keep accepting bribes and breaking the law with regard to the sex trade, harder correction measures should be executed. Example of punishments are fines, jail sentences and job dismissals.

Also, according to Columbia University Press (2009), the average sentence for those traffickers who end up convicted is usually no more than three years. Besides, the courts normally imprison around thirty to forty traffickers a year despite the thousands of trafficking victims throughout Thailand. For these, the recommendations are that there should cero tolerance when convicting sex-trade involucrated individuals and apply stricter punishments for them.

Economic recommendations:

The economic recommendations will deal with three main issues: the extreme poverty suffered in Thailand, the lack of career training for women, and the insufficient and very bad payed jobs available for women.

Firstly, the government should offer suitable career teaching and preparation to prevent women from staying in low wages professions due to their lack of skills for more advanced and professional jobs. One great example is the case of Microsoft which gave $1.5 million dollars to fund software for NGO’s in the Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, India and Thailand to teach and prepare females who are at risk of being trafficked in information technology positions (Microsoft Partners, 2006).

In addition, apart from training women for further job opportunities, the Thai government should provide new jobs in more areas such as medical sciences and entrepreneurial jobs which would demand the women to embody leadership roles and, therefore, break with the traditional, helping reduce the wide gap between gender inequalities that now exist in Thailand (Shelley, 2010)

Socio-cultural recommendations

Last but not least, in the case of the socio-cultural situation, it is highly recommended that the government should reinforce the importance of ladies completing at least, they secondary education in school as it is one way of maintaining young ladies away from the temptations offered by sex traffickers. The Office of the National Commission of Women’s Affairs in Thailand has been sponsoring numerous programs with the aim of keeping females away from the sex industry by issuing scholarships so that they would be forced to study until they are eighteen years old (Lim, 1998).

Finally, government should portray females as successful businesswomen. A positive image should be communicated instead of the actual sexual one shown. Consequently, the view on sex trafficking as an accessible, normal thing will be changed (Lim, 1998). Furthermore, journalists around the globe could work on a project with the government in which stories and real cases about sex-traffic are exposed. Thai victims can take this opportunity to share their experience and raise their voice. One example of media exposing sex trafficking is the CNN Freedom Project. The initiative was transmitted in more than 200 countries around the globe with the main objective of raising awareness worldwide.



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