Thailand says that after coronavirus restrictions were lifted, the number of tourists went up last year, but it was still far below what it was before the pandemic.
South East Asia had 11.81 million tourists in 2022, up from only 400,000 the year before.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand also thinks the number of visitors will double this year, reaching 25 million.
But those numbers need to be much higher than the 39.8 million tourists who came to Thailand in 2019.
Each person from outside the country will have to pay 300 baht ($9.20 or £7.40) starting in early June.
By 2027, Thailand wants to have 80 million tourists every year.
In 2019, more than 10% of a country’s gross domestic product came from tourism (GDP). In 2021, though, it was only 1%. GDP is a key way to find out how well or badly an economy is doing. It measures the whole economy.
The Thai government wants to spend more than $150 billion on tourism by getting more than twice as many people to visit as they did before the pandemic.
The government’s Public Relations Department wrote on Facebook, “Once this goal is met, tourism could bring in 5tn baht for the country in 2027.”
The news release also said that Thailand plans to improve “tourism safety standards” to deal with the increasing number of tourists.
This month, the country said that visitors to Thailand would have to show proof that they had been vaccinated against COVID-19, but it quickly changed its mind.
Since China no longer has strict border controls as it did during the pandemic, more Chinese tourists will likely visit Thailand. In most of South East Asia, this is true.
In December, China’s immigration office said that Chinese people who want to travel outside of China could start applying for passports again on January 8.
The announcement ended the strict quarantine rules, which had been in place for almost three years. People started planning trips abroad because of this, and travel sites saw a rise in traffic.
Before the pandemic, most people who went to Thailand were from China. China sent almost 11 million people to the United States in 2019. At least 5 million Chinese people are expected to visit the country this year.
COVID and ethics changed tourism in Thailand
When Kwanmueang comes in for his annual checkup, he is so big that you can’t help but be amazed.
The 18-year-old bull elephant in Thailand is a strong sight. It stands almost three meters tall at the shoulder, weighs at least four tons, and has beautiful tusks that curve together almost to the point where they touch.
But he and his caretaker, Sornsiri “Lek” Sapmak, are in trouble.
They used to make money by having Kwanmueang take part in ceremonies to make new monks or dress up as war elephants for reenactments of old battles. When COVID was shut down, all of that stopped.
Thailand is the only place in the world where more than 3,000 elephants are used for tourism. Thailand is different from other countries with captive populations in that almost all of them are privately owned. So, the end of tourism because of the pandemic has been bad for the elephants and their owners, who no longer make enough money to take care of them.
Even though tourism is getting better, this one-of-a-kind business is still a threat. Many foreign tourists no longer go to elephant shows, which used to be a big part of tours, because they are worried about how the animals are kept and trained. This makes people wonder if elephant tourism will ever be the same as before COVID.
Lek and Kwanmueang have returned to Lek’s village in Surin province, where Lek grew up. Here, people are known for being good at keeping elephants, training them, and in the past, capturing them.
Lek is not alone. Hundreds of other elephants have come back to Surin from tourist destinations like Phuket and Chiang Mai. They earned money by doing tricks or giving rides to tourists from other countries.
Walking through these villages is scary. Nearly every house has an elephant chained up in the front yard or resting under a tree. You get used to seeing the big animals walk slowly down the road with their mahouts on their wide necks, and you learn to drive carefully around them.
Thailand is home to elephants, but there are now only about 3,000 to 4,000 wild elephants, down from about 100,000 a century ago. This is because many of them were caught in the past and used in the logging business. When that stopped in the late 1980s to protect what was left of the country’s forests, they started being used to entertain tourists.
In their first performances, they used logs to show how good they were. But as Thailand’s tourism grew, these changed to include rides and shows where animals did things like paint or play football. World Animal Protection (WAP), an animal rights group, says that before COVID, elephants brought Thailand up to $770 million (£626 million) each year.
WAP is one of many groups trying to stop elephants from being used in shows. They say it’s not natural and is always taught in cruel ways. There are already a lot of tourists who want to see elephants in Thailand in a better way. Some European and North American tour companies will no longer take their clients to elephant camps where they can ride or bathe elephants.
So, the ecotourism industry has made a new niche to meet these needs