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Pacific Tourism Review


International Political Economy


As Thailand’s greatest source of foreign exchange revenue, international tourism plays an increasingly powerful role in connecting Thailand to regional and global networks. Thailand has received tourists for much of the 20th century but has only recently experienced an explosion in arrivals and revenues, which in1996 exceeded 7 million tourists and US$8.7 billion, respectively. Although the economic benefits of tourism have considerably mitigated Thailand’s balance-of-payments shortcomings, unfettered and poorly planned tourism growth has also created several social and environmental dilemmas. This article examines some of these dilemmas in light of historical patterns of growth and contemporary trends in the Thai tourism industry. By focusing on the experiences of Phuket, Thailand’s premier resort destination, this article demonstrates that despite toe financial bonanza most often associated with tourism development, persistent local resistance testifies to the complexity and conflict surrounding continued tourism expansion. The future success and viability of tourism in Thailand will essentially hinge upon the ability of Thai government planners and tourism industry representatives to balance the perpetual quest for profit maximization with broader issues of quality and sustainability.