The Thai government is striving to end its long-standing reputation as a sex tourism destination following a controversial remark by a Gambian minister about the country in January.
“We have to admit the fact that such a reputation has been around for a while,’’ Prime Minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha, said in a news conference.
“There are still people, who take up this occupation. All parties need to tackle this problem. We need to raise an awareness that this occupation is not good. Don’t do it,’’ Prayut said.
The Thai premier’s remark came after the Gambia’s Minister of Tourism and Culture, Hamat Bah told state media that Thailand is a sex destination.
“We [the Gambia] are not a sex destination. If you want a sex destination, you go to Thailand,” Bah said in a TV interview.
Bah’s remark was made in January but it only gained attention when a travel news website published it over the weekend.
Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had sent a letter to the Thai embassy in Senegal, which has jurisdiction in Gambia, to express displeasure at the remark, said the ministry’s deputy spokeswoman Makawadee Sumitmor.
According to the Culture Minister, Veera Rojpojchanarat, Thailand’s reputation has seen some improvement.
“There used to be such an image [of the sex trade], but now Thailand’s tourism industry has focused more on cultural aspects. The quality of the industry has improved,” Veera said.
Prostitution is illegal in Thailand, but lax enforcement has led to a thriving sex industry which was originally established in the 1970s to cater to U.S. military personnel serving in the Vietnam War.
According to Thailand’s Public Health Ministry and labour rights groups, there are more than 120,000 sex workers across Thailand.