Tourism Statistics Thailand 2000-2019
Last update this page : Januari 2020.
The number of tourists visiting Thailand increased from 35.35 million in 2017 to 38.28 million in 2018 and now 39.80 in 2019. The increase in visitors from 2018 to 2019 was limited to 4.24 %, which actually was less than Thai authorities expected.
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. Since the Thai economy has been lagging in economic growth the last few years, and Thai good exports have decreased somewhat in 2019, Thailand expects ever more from income from its tourism sector.
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. Their number increased further to 10.99 million in 2019, and the increased number of Chinese visitors is quite obvious on Bangkok's streets and in its shopping malls. In 2018 there was an alarming drop in Chinese visitors after an unfortunate boat accident in July 2018, when 47 Chinese tourists lost their lives. But since then, arrivals have recovered (though the Thai government would like to see even more Chinese visitors).
Update 2019 :
Increase in the number of tourist visiting Thailand was somewhat subdued during the first and second quarter of 2019. Compared to 2018 there was an increase in visitors (to 10,795,249) of 'just' 1.75%. The second quarter saw an increase to 8,974,101 visitors, 1.43 % up on the previous year.
The third quarter was clearly more promising,especially the arrival numbers in August and September. The number of visitors increased to 9,696,385 . That was 7.23 % more than in the same period a year earlier.
The fourth quarter saw a continuation of this trend. Actually the month December saw the highest number of arrivals in one month at 3,930,800 visitors.
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. 18 years later in 2019, we now have 39.8 million visitors, so the number has about quadrupled in that time..
With 10,994,721 visitors in 2019 China provides the largest number of tourists (27.6% 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 from travelers are short.
The following occurred the past 2 decades :
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.
2018 : boat accident in July in Phuket with 47 Chinese casualties. Chinese arrivals decreased during the subsequent months.
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.
Begin 2020 we have again a health scare originating in Wuhan province of China. We have to wait and see what effect this will have on travel in the region.
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.
From the graph you may see that the end of 2011 (major floods) and end 2013-begin 2014 (political uncertainty) saw less than expected arrivals.
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 had a very good period, with substantial increases in the number of arrivals. Military rule continued for 5 years, without adverse effects on the tourism industry. The military government was followed by a 'civilian' government under the same prime minister in 2019.
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.
2020 and Beyond
As stated before, the Thai tourism industry is very important for the country, and created a large chunk of Thailand's GDP. Understandably, different measures are being taken for ever more visitors to come to the country. The last few years the Chinese visitors are very visible in Thailand, but the risk is of course, that Thailand may become overly dependent on Chinese arrivals. As we have seen during the last few years, political disturbances and health scares, may have sudden unpleasant consequences for the tourism industry.
What is also worrying is the occurrence of air pollution in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and other provinces outside the capital. Poor air quality is much in the news these days. Unfortunately, there have been poor readings of environment pollution for three consecutive years now (2017 to 2019) with air quality getting poor from December onwards into the following months.
Air Visual readings for air pollution in Chiang Mai on 27 March 2020 (midst of Corona crisis with much less traffic). PM 2.5 (small particles) at the same time was at 234 micrograms/cubic meter
We can not see much being done about the situation. Therefore, it is unpredictable whether this will at one time reach a tipping point, and tourists may start going to other countries instead of Thailand.
Last but not least, there is the ever increasing strenght of the Thai currency, the Thai Baht. Beginning 2020, one U.S. Dollar will get you about 30 Thai baht, and one Euro will get you 33-34 Thai baht. In 2019 the Thai baht gained about 10 % against the U.S. Dollar. So visiting Thailand, is becoming ever more expensive.
Then again, inbound tourism and outbound exports (Thailand has a positive trade balance), are two of the important reasons (certainly among others) why the Thai baht has become a 'strong' currency. It is a bit of a Catch 22 situation : promoting tourism and promoting exports, will also be promoting an increase in the strenght of the Thai currency, and therefore in the long run have a negative effect on tourism and exports.