Thailand is notorious for sex tourism, a maelstrom of ladyboys, beautiful women and astonishing acts involving ping pong balls.
However, Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, the country’s tourism minister, has pledged to bring an end the country’s lucrative and ingrained sex tourism industry.
“We want the sex industry gone,” he said. “Tourists don’t come to Thailand for such a thing. They come here for our beautiful culture.”
But Kobkarn must surely know that thousands of tourists come for the sex. Although prostitution is officially illegal in Thailand, the sex trade is basically unavoidable, just like it is in many Asian countries, including the Philippines.
Kobkarn has had plans to tackle the sex tourism industry since her appointment as tourism minister in 2014. However, just like in the Philippines, saying something and doing something are two very different things.
Pattaya, arguably the largest sex tourism destinations in the country, was part of a pilot program to re-brand the region as a ‘family tourism hot-spot’ and away from a ‘tourism sex-spot.’
Pattaya has more than 1,000 bars and massage parlours in operation, many openly advertising the “special services” they provide. But Kobkarn believes she can change all that, with a little bit of rebranding.
This June a large number of raids by police have brought down some of Bangkok’s biggest brothels. Other raids took place in several other cities. However, sources say that out of all the raids combined, only 100 people were arrested.
Though cleaning up the sex industry in Thailand seems like a positive thing for some, those who rely on it for a living may be forced to turn to more serious crime and other forms of survival.
A recent report noted that Thailand has about 123,000 full-time sex workers – which seems a conservative estimate going by some cities alone. Other estimates put the figure at more than 250,000 – again, many who know the country would probably put the true figure at four-times higher than that.
Thailand’s minimum daily wage is about 300 baht, or $8.59 per day. A sex worker can easily earn upwards of 1,200 baht as a freelance street walker, and some girls can make many times more as a popular go-go girl.
Tourism in Thailand is said to account for ten per cent of the country’s GDP. How far would this figure fall without the lure of the sex industry to bring in visitors?
Whatever happens to Thailand’s sex-for sale industry, “someone is going to get screwed in the end.”