Tourism Statistics Thailand 2000-2020
Last update this page : May 2021.
See graph of quarterly arrivals updated at bottom of page.
The number of tourists visiting Thailand increased from 35.35 million in 2017 to 38.28 million in 2018 and then 39.92 million in 2019. The increase in visitors from 2018 to 2019 was limited to 4.24 %, which actually was less than Thai authorities expected. The ever rising number of tourists to Thailand came to an abrupt end from March 2020 onwards. 2020 saw only a total of 6,702,396 tourists, almost all arriving in the first three months of the year. From March 2020 to end August 2020 no tourists were allowed in. Thereafter in the last three months of the year a total of 10,822 tourists arrived under very special stringent conditions. Few people with their mental capabilities intact, would have considered coming to the country.
Hopefully 2021 will be better. Lots of people in the hospitality sector lost their jobs and/or are in dire straits.
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 income from its tourism sector. However, as we know now, the Covid-19 pandemic put an end to the ever increasing tourist arrivals to the country.
A relatively recent development has been 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 was 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 had recovered (though the Thai government would like to see even more Chinese visitors).
Short Update 2021 :
Tourist arrivals did not start in earnest at the beginning of 2021. In the mid and towards the end of 2020, there was hope that things would go back to normal, or something that people like to call the New Normal (God help us !) But is was not to be. The first quarter of 2020 saw a new wave of Covid-19 infections, with more casualties than during the first wave. As a result, some kind of lockdown (all but in name) was again enforced starting towards the end of April 2021. Prospects of millions arriving again in 2021, seem to have been abandoned.
As for arrivals, a total of 20,172 tourists arrived in Thailand during the first quarter of 2021. This was a drop of 99.7 % compared to 2020. Of this limited number of arrivals, 48.9 % came from Europe. People could only come to Thailand under strict conditions (numerous Covid-19 tests, health certificates, quarantines, etc.). Still a few people came. Prospects for the rest of the year are poor.
Update 2020 :
The year 2020 saw some dramatic events around the world with the emergence of the Covid-19 (Corona virus) pandemic. It started in China and rapidly spread globally. Thailand's tourism sector is suffering a lot (as other tourism sectors around the world), starting in February-March 2020, and getting worse in the following months. This both related to countries not allowing citizens to travel, as well as Thailand not accepting international flights landing at its airports. You can get a summary of the first few months of 2020 at our dedicated page about the Corona Virus and its effect on Thai Tourism.at the beginning of the pandemic.
In any case, Tourist Arrivals dropped to 6,691 million in the first quarter of 2020, at drop from 10,795 million in the first quarter of 2019 (-38.01 %). However, worse was to come, and most of the drop in visitors occurred in March 2020, when just 819,429 tourists arrived, compared to 3,473,088 tourists in March 2019.(-76.41 %).
NO TOURISTS have arrived during both the 2nd and 3rd Quarter of 2020. In October (1,201), November (3.,065) and December (6,556) a total of 10,822 tourist arrived under special conditions. These included a variety of tests, a lot of documents, quarantine on arrival, which was not always a pleasant experience, costs for quarantine to be paid by the visitors etc.
The absence of tourists, especially Chinese tourists, is clearly visible on the streets, also at shopping malls, and even in the supermarkets. Quite some businesses depend on foreigers for a big chunk of their revenue (this also includesThailand's internationally oriented hospitals). We calculated that every month of absence of tourists, results in about a 1 % decrease in Thailand's GDP. Hopefully, this would not go on for months and months, but it did.
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. This clearly is the most severe threat yet for the Thai tourism industry. As mentioned, arrivals decreased dramatically in the first Quarter of 2020, and went to ZERO in the second and third Quarters of 2020. The last quarter saw just a trickle of arrivals.
Tourism Industry in Thailand. Domestic Component
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 do spend much less per day and their trips are shorter.
Some numbers :
As noted above, the number of international arrivals increases year by year (not in 2020), bringing in a lot of revenue. Averaged over the last three years, the international traveler brings in 49,661 Thai baht per person (let's say 50,000 baht).
The number of domestic travelers is actually much higher, and reached almost 167 million in 2019. Averaged over the last three years, a domestic traveler spends 6.389 Thai baht on his trip.
When looking at the larger picture, it is obvious that domestic travel is a very important component. Over the last three years, revenue from domestic travel amounted to 35.8 % of total revenue gained from tourism. Effects are underway to revive the Thai tourist industry, after the Covid-19 crisis, by encouraging domestic travel first, before allowing foreigners back into the country.
Quarterly Arrivals from 2011 to 2020 :
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.
The first quarter of 2020 saw a dramatic decrease in the number of visitors. This was totally linked to the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic. A dramatic decrease to ZERO occurred in the second quarter and also in the third quarter of 2020. As mentioned, a very limited number of tourists arrived during the 4th quarter under stringent conditions.
We do think that some foreigners are allowed in the country with the purpose of working or investing in Thailand. But they can hardly be counted as tourists. Something will have to give, otherwise we will not see a return of a substantial number of tourists.
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.
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, with 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. This pattern is repeating itself end 2020 and beginning of 2021. We read a very pertinent description in an editorial in the Bangkok Post newspaper, stating (we paraphrase) : each time pollution increases over Bangkok or Chiang Mai, the authorities respond as if this is a new phenomenon (the first time it happened) and that they will take measures.
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 2021, one U.S. Dollar will get you about 30 Thai baht, and one Euro will get you 36 Thai baht. In 2019 the Thai baht gained about 10 % against the U.S. Dollar. The rate stayed a bit more stable during 2020, and the Euro actually strengthened against the Thai Baht.
Then again, inbound tourism and outbound exports (Thailand has a positive trade balance, even more so in 2020, despite overall reduction in trade), 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.
Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic is an ongoing situation, with a dramatic decrease in arrivals during the last three months of 2020. From April of 2020 till the end of the first Quarter of 2021, the number of tourists arriving (under very restricting conditions) varied between 0 and a few thousands. In the end it will be a rather philosophic decision. Will Thai tourism only start operating again, when Covid-19 has completely disappeared from the world' stage, or can a reasonable risk be taken in allowing limited numbers of tourists. There will likely be a brutal economic reckoning if the tourist sector has to close its doors. Hopefully the vaccinations which in earnest started in 2021, will bring some relief. As of May 2021 however, vaccinations were only given to a very limited number of inhabitants. Likely the well controlled first wave of Covid-19 in the country, induced the idea : no need to hurry with vaccines, time to choose carefully, etc. In retrospect, this looks like a mistake, and now the country apparently has to scramble to find vaccines from different sources.