Tourism revenue is expected to continue growing this year, but high growth could mean greater risks to the economy, warns a senior ministry official.
Pongpanu Svetarundra, permanent secretary of the Tourism and Sports Ministry, said tourism revenue is expected to account for 17-18% of the country's GDP this year, compared with 17.7% a year earlier and 16.7% in 2015.
"Tourism revenue is estimated to generate 2.71 trillion baht worth of income this year, up 8.17% from 2016, with 1.78 trillion baht stemming from foreign tourists and 934 billion from Thais," Mr Pongpanu said yesterday. "However, this is quite risky for the Thai economy as the industry will be hard hit if a negative event occurs that scares away visitors."
The global average for tourism revenue is 9% of GDP.
Thailand's tourism revenue totalled 2.53 trillion baht last year, making up 17.7% of its GDP.
He said a strong tourism industry last year helped offset low crop prices and poor exports in the Thai economy. Thailand's exports eked out marginal growth of 0.45% in 2016, ending three years of contraction.
Exports totalled US$215 billion (7.53 trillion baht) last year, with imports shrinking 3.9% to $195 billion.
Mr Pongpanu said the sector that reaped the most benefit from growing tourism was hotels and lodgings, which fetched 580 billion baht last year, followed by food and beverage earning 448 billion, land transport 136 billion, aviation 122 billion and sports and entertainment 100 billion.
The tourism industry made 4.23 million hires last year.
He said the ministry has been improving its collection of tourism statistics and plans to announce figures every month on the ministry's website so related agencies and companies can apply it in their business analysis.
The ministry reported yesterday foreign tourist arrivals rose 6.52% year-on-year in January to 3.19 million. The industry generated 169 billion baht worth of revenue, up 10.3% from 150 billion year-on-year.
China led the pack with 859,000 visitors, followed by Malaysia at 263,000, South Korea at 171,000, Japan with 129,000 and Laos 121,000.
As of Feb 14, the number of foreign visitors totalled 4.84 million, up 4.89% from the same period last year, generating 253 billion baht.
Charoen Wangananont, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, said the number of quality visitors is expected to rise this year if the government implements better management and underlines closer cooperation on tourism with Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.