One night in Bangkok, it’s one night of having a good time, and for millions of tourists it means also sex. For 123,000 sex workers and a conservative of 250,000 people in the workforce relying on this segment of the tourism industry, it may be the difference between having a home or ending up on the streets and is necessary to feed a family and pay bills.
If Thailand’s tourism officials want to have it as a true fact or not, the sex tourism industry is a major part of the overall 10% GDP for Thailand, and cutting it out may be a bad decision.
Thailand’s tourism minister sees it different. H.E. Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, has pledged to bring an end to the country’s sex industry.
Kobkarn said she wants Thailand to be about quality tourism. “We want the sex industry gone,” she said. “Tourists don’t come to Thailand for such a thing. They come here for our beautiful culture.”
Thailand’s millions of sex tourists would disagree.
Although prostitution is illegal in Thailand, and has been for close to 70 years, the country is home to a large sex trade. While the majority of customers are Thai men, the industry also thrives on foreign visitors who come for companionship, thrills and even wives.
Kobkarn, who has been in office since 2014, has had plans to tackle the industry since being appointed.
Pattaya, a beach resort and one of the country’s sex tourism hotspots, was the target for a pilot program that would then be introduced country wide. The aim was to rebrand Pattaya from a place for tourists to come in pursuit of sex, into a hub for water sports. The area is home to more than 1,000 bars and massage parlors which operate as brothels.
The number of police raids in June targeted some of Bangkok’s largest brothels and saw more than 100 sex workers arrested. Raids took place in other major cities, Reuters reports, but police say they were not linked to Kobkarn’s plan.
While Thailand’s efforts to clean up its image appear positive, the effects could prove detrimental for the country’s sex workers.
Thailand’s minimum wage is 300 baht ($8.59) a day. Sex workers earn about 1,200 baht ($34) for street prostitutes and $85 for go-go girls or go-go boys per transaction.
Men or women who wish to find companionship with a woman or a man in one of Thailand’s many bars are required to pay a bar fee in order to sit and drink with the girl or the boy. He or she buys her or him drinks and will then pay her for sex.
Police receive payoffs from bar owners for turning a blind eye to what goes on inside – meaning that if the industry was to be shut down, they would also feel the hit.