Thai tourism body says it opposes 'sex tourism'

BANGKOK - Thailand's tourism body has said in a statement that it "strongly opposes any form of sex tourism" as it hopes to welcome a record number of holiday-makers this year.

Known for its beaches, Buddhist temples and world-famous cuisine, Thailand is consistently voted one of the world's top destinations. It expects to welcome a record 37.55 million tourists this year.

But it is also known for sex. Although prostitution is illegal in Thailand, it is tolerated and brothels frequented by Thais and foreigners can be found in most major cities.

Thai police on Monday arrested a group of 10 Russians who were running a sex training class for their compatriots in the seaside town of Pattaya, and have charged them with working in Thailand without permission.

"The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) ensures that its marketing strategy and policy to move Thailand forward as the 'Quality Destination' has stepped in the right direction ... and strongly opposes any form of sex tourism," the TAT said in a statement late on Wednesday.

Signs offering "soapy massages" - bubble baths given to brothel clients that usually end with sex - and go-go bars have helped to bolster Thailand's reputation as a sex destination.

There are around 123,530 sex workers in Thailand, according to a 2014 UNAIDS report.

Thailand and sex tourism have become so synonymous that last month British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson alluded to the issue during a Brexit speech.

"... more than a million people ... go to Thailand every year where our superb consular services deal with some of the things that they get up to there," said Johnson.

In 2016, Thailand's then-tourism minister said she was pushing to rid the country of its ubiquitous brothels and wanted Thailand to be about "quality tourism". That pledge was followed by police raids on some of the biggest establishments providing sex services in the capital Bangkok.

But experts say ridding the country of an industry that is so entrenched will be extremely difficult.

The TAT statement this week follows tension between Thailand and Gambia after Gambia's tourism minister was reported to have told tourists last month to go to Thailand for sex rather than visit the West African country.

That prompted Thailand's foreign ministry to file a formal letter of protest with consular offices representing Gambia.

Last year, Thailand's tourism industry recorded its highest revenue in history, raking in $53.76 billion, a 12 per cent increase from 2016.

Thai authorities crack down on 'Sin City' Pattaya

  • Two hours east of Bangkok, Pattaya's bawdy reputation hails from the Vietnam War era when American GIs partied in their downtime.
  • Today it spins money off its no-holds-barred reputation and its most successful sex workers earn anywhere between 70-150,000 baht ($2-4,400) a month, as much as ten times the national average wage.
  • But concerns about the impact on Thailand's reputation have spurred authorities to act, while frequent reports of underage sex workers, drug abuse and mafia operations further muddy Pattaya's name.
  • Thai Police Lieutenant Colonel Sulasak Kalokwilas (middle) leading a group of policemen and soldiers past young women (left) enticing customers to enter a bar, as they patrol Walking Street in Pattaya
  • Police Lieutenant Colonel Sulasak Kalokwilas (right) is one of those tasked with what many might deem the ultimate Sisyphean task: weaning Pattaya off sex.
  • For many residents of the city the latest moral outrage fits a familiar pattern: negative overseas headlines prompt authorities to launch high-visibility - yet limited - crackdowns on an industry that pays the bills for everyone.
  • The sex trade is a cash cow for the bar owners, girls, massage parlours, hotels, taxis, mafia and, many have long alleged, the cops charged with policing.
  • Prostitution is illegal in conservative Thailand. Yet it remains ubiquitous for local and foreign customers alike.
  • Businesses use a well worn loophole to avoid prosecution, hiring sex workers inside the bars merely to entertain and talk to patrons.
  • A small "bar fine", usually around 500 baht ($14), secures private "short time" away from the bar where any deal struck for sex is purely between the punter and prostitute.
  • Last year some 12 million tourists - seventy per cent foreigners - visited a city which now boasts over 100,000 rooms across 2,000 hotels, from cheap backpackers to swanky golf courses and family apartments.
  • While not everyone who comes is a sex tourist, Pattaya's director of tourism Suladda Sarutilavan admits the city's seedy image and crime headlines are a problem.
  • A hostess of a staged event used to highlight a push by the city to promote safety in an area renowned for being a top red light district of Pattaya watching the stage.
  • A performer dancing next to a neon sign from a go go bar in a red light district in Pattaya at an event used to highlight a push by the city to promote safety in the area.
  • A bar supervisor checking on numbers assigned to pole dancers for rotations at a go go bar in Pattaya.
  • Performers dancing on a stage set up in a red light district of Pattaya.
  • An elderly woman offering flower garlands along Walking Street -- a mile-long drag festooned with bars and clubs pouring out ear-crushing EDM music -- in the Thai city of Pattaya.
  • Young women working the poles on a stage at a go go dance bar in Walking Street.
  • Pole dancers performing on stage at a go go bar in Walking Street.
  • A young woman offering shots of liquer at a dance bar in Walking Street
  • A woman dancing on a stage above Walking Street in Pattaya in an effort to attract customers to a bar.