Thailand is shedding its sleazy sex and drugs image to boost tourism. Chris Webb reports.
Thailand, "the land of the smiles," has had little to laugh about in 1990 and 1991. The Gulf war was the culprit, cutting GDP growth back to single figures after the heady expansion of the late 80s. Yet forecasters are optimistic that with the war out of the way, Thailand's economy in 1992 can return to the 1988 and 1989 pattern which saw the GDP swell by 13.2% and 12.1% respectively.
Tourism is one of the key areas being targeted by a Thai government set on growth, and a major clean-up campaign is to be launched to rid the country of its sleazy sex and drugs image. In October these efforts were rewarded when Thailand hosted the annual conference of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Some 15,000 key world figures sampled Bangkok's delights. But, even this success cannot disguise the blow to tourism caused by the war. The industry had been growing at a rate of some 30% a year, and in 1990 there were 4.8 million visitors. The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) had been forecasting six million visitors for 1991 before the Gulf War, a figure which would have generated over £3.35 billion in valuable foreign exchange revenue.