Tourism Statistics Thailand 2000-2019
Last update this page : May 2019.
The number of tourists visiting Thailand increased from 35.35 million in 2017 to 38.28 million in 2018. Tourism plays an ever more important role in the Thai economy. The National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC, recently renamed from NESDB) stated begin February 2019 that Tourism accounted for 18.4 % (or close to one fifth) of the GDP of Thailand. It has risen from a level in 14.2 % of GDP just four years earlier.
A relatively recent development is the ever increasing number of Chinese mainland visitors. They surpassed 10.5 million visitors in 2018, making up 27.5 % of the total.
You can see the quarterly arrival data from 2010 till 2018 on the second image on this page. For 2018 increases (compared to 2017) per quarter were as follows : first quarter (+15.4 %), second quarter (+10.91 %), third quarter (+2.7 %), fourth quarter (+3.7 %). You will notice that the increases have been lesser during the second half of the year.
This was related to a decrease in Chinese visitors during a few months, which occurred after a boat accident in July 2018 off Phuket, whereby 47 Chinese tourists lost their lives. By the end of the year though, the number of Chinese visitors had picked up again (see below)
Update 2019 first Quarter : The number of visitor in the first quarter of 2019 increased to 10,795,246 from 10,608,686 in the previous year. The tourist authorities rather consider this a somewhat poor result (an increase by just 1.75 %)
Long-Term View : Boom Years for Thai Tourism Industry
In 2001 Thailand received 10.13 million visitors. In the early years of the millenium there was a slow rise, later a very fast increase in tourists arrivals. In the 16 years since 2001 we now have seen an increase in arrivals up to 38.28 million in 2018.
With 10,535,955 visitors China provides the largest number of tourists (27.5% of total), while the country hardly provided any visitors in the first years of this millenium.
Along the way, since the turn of the century there have been a number of temporary setbacks for the Thai tourism industry. You can sometimes see their effect on the number of visitors for a certain year in the graphs on this page. After a health scare, a political uncertainty, or a natural disaster, 'traditionally' the number of visitors decreases during just 2 or 3 months, and then picks up again. Memories for travelers are short.
The following occurred the past few years :
Global recession and riots in Thailand 2009
Riots and political uncertainty in 2010. Major flooding of a large part of Thailand and northern Bangkok end 2011.
Political demonstrations end 2013 and ongoing into 2014. Anti-goverment demonstrations occupied most of the first half of 2014, and were followed by declaration of martial law, and a military (bloodless) Coup d'Etat on 22 May 2014. Bombing of the Erawan Shrine on 17 August 2015.
Crack-down on zero-dollar (Chinese) tour groups at the end of 2016 had a significant effect on Chinese arrivals. This persisted during the first quarter of 2017, but overall the number of visitors kept on rising in 2016 and 2017.
It is safe to say that health scares and the global recession had a more pronounced impact than the local political uncertainly, riots and demonstration. Thailand experiences an unstable political scene, but overall fortunately the tourism industry continues to grow with a moderate hick-up only during the first three quarters of 2014.
Tourism Industry in Thailand
In 2017, provisional data indicate receipts from tourism total 1,824,042.35 million baht, which is an increase of 85.4 % in Thai baht compared to 5 years ago.
In dollar terms, at an average rate of 33.945 Thai baht for 1 U.S. Dollar, receipts in 2017 totalled 53.74 billion U.S. Dollar !!!
Provisional data for 2018 : In Thai baht, revenue reached 2,007,503.89 million, an increase of 9.63% compared to the previous year. This (at an average rate of 32.32 Thai baht for one U.S. Dollar, own calculation) amounts to 62.11 billion U.S. Dollar.
Interestingly, the tourism sector does not only depend only on foreign visitors. The number of domestic tourists may actually dwarf the number of foreign tourists,but domestic tourists (mostly Thais) do spend much less per day and their trips are shorter.
Quarterly Arrivals from 2011 to 2019 :
Thailand has a tourist season when more visitors arrive. As you can see below, the number of visitors is almost consistently higher during the first quarter and the last quarter of each year. This coincides with a more pleasant climate in the country ('cold' season), and less favorable weather conditions in Europe, and large parts of Asia, like China and Japan.
We figure that Thailand missed out on in between 1 and 2 million potential extra visitors in both 2009 and 2010. The same is probably true for end 2011 with major floods, and end 2013-begin 2014 with the political uncertainty.
A military coup was staged and martial law was declared by the Royal Thai Army on 20 May 2014.
The above contributed to a decrease in travel arrivals during 2014, spread over the first three quarters of the year. During the first 9 months of 2014 around 2,000,000 less tourists arrived in Thailand, or a decrease of -10.28% when compared with the same period of 2013. But afterwards, the tourism industry has a very good period, with substantial increases in the number of arrivals.
The last four years Thailand has been under military rule, with no adverse effect on the tourism industry.
The number of Chinese visitors has increased a lot these last few years. On 2 occasion there was a temporary decrease in Chinese arrivals : Once with a crack down on zero-dollar tour groups at the end of 2016, and once, after a major boat accident in July 2018. You can not really notice this on the graph just below, but when looking at Chinese visitors separately, it is noticeable (see below).
As mentioned at the top of the page, the number of arrivals in the first quarter of 2019 increased by just 1.75 % compared to the previous year. There may be multiple reasons for this 'stagnation'. However an important factor without doubt is poor environmental conditions in Thailand during the first quarter of 2019 and continuing into April 2019. Air measurements of pollution have been particularly bad in the Northern Region (Chiang Mai and surrounding provinces), but also in Bangkok, and even in Nakhon Ratchasima.
During quite some weeks the measurements (as reported by AirVisual), showed levels of pollution that were Unhealthy or Very Unhealthy. Invariably the reason were elevated small particle concentrations (PM 2.5). The reasons for this are well known (cars, industry), but in Thailand there was the added important component of human-initiated burning of fields (for the next crops) and forests (we understand to search for priced mushrooms).
Very little is being done about it (it is a recurrent yearly problem, but much worse this year), cheap is talk, and some measures taken were quite bizarre (sending small drones in the air for spraying a bit of water, for example). However, the press has been very active this year, talking about the problem, which may lead to some improvements in the coming years. If not carefully managed, this problem may lead to Thailand losing part of its appeal as a tourist destination.
Numbers show number of tourist arrivals per quarter of each year (in millions).
Source data : Department of Tourism, Thailand. Since 2017 data are available at website of Ministry of Tourism and Sports. Research Thai language pages for latest updates.
Add-On : Towards a China Dependency
The number of Chinese visitors passed the 10,000,000 mark in december 2018 and the year was ended with a total of 10,535,955 visitors. This despite a negative effect on arrival numbers, after an boat accident in July 2018, whereby 47 tourists died.
See the crossover in July and towards the end of 2018. Chinese visitors dropped below the level of the previous year. If the same number as in 2017 would have arrived towards the second half of the year, there would be at least 500,000 visitors more. If we think that the increase in visitors would be similar to the increase seen in the first half of the year, then likely more than 1,000,000 visitors did not arrive.
The number of visitors increased again in the first month of 2019, so the dip last year is likely not caused (alone) by the decrease in economic growth in China during 2019.
Since around 27.5 % of foreign visitors came from China in 2018, it is clear than any negative news about Thailand, or a serious economic downturn in China, will have a profound effect on Chinese arrivals, and thus in arrivals overall. It would be wise to not overly relying on visitors of China. One gets the impression from reports in the media that a lot of effort is being made in ever increasing their arrival numbers.