Thai tourism body says it opposes ‘sex tourism’

BANGKOK: Thailand's tourism body hopes to welcome a record number of holiday-makers this year but said it "strongly opposes any form of sex tourism".

Known for its beaches, Buddhist temples and cuisine, and consistently voted one of the world's top destinations, Thailand expects to welcome a record 37.55 million tourists this year.

Although prostitution is illegal in Thailand, it is tolerated and brothels frequented by Thais and foreigners can be found in most major cities.

Thai police on Monday arrested a group of 10 Russians who were running a sex training class for their compatriots in the seaside town of Pattaya, and have charged them with working in Thailand without permission.

"The Tourism Authority of Thailand ensures that its marketing strategy... has stepped in the right direction... and strongly opposes any form of sex tourism," it said late on Wednesday.

Signs offering "soapy massages" - bubble baths given to brothel clients that usually end with sex - and go-go bars have helped to bolster Thailand's reputation as a sex destination.

There are around 123,530 sex workers in Thailand, according to a 2014 report by UNAids, a United Nations programme on HIV and Aids .

In 2016, Thailand's then-tourism minister said she was pushing to rid the country of brothels and wanted Thailand to be about "quality tourism". That was followed by police raids on some of the biggest establishments providing sex services in Bangkok.

But experts say ridding the country of an industry that is so entrenched will be extremely difficult. Last year, Thailandraked in a record US$53.76 billion (S$71 billion) from tourism, a 12 per cent increase from 2016. - REUTERS