Thailand's ranking in the Travel and Tourism Development Index 2021 dropped to 36th from 35th place, with safety and security plunging to the lower end of the table, while neighbouring countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam posted improvements.
Out of 117 countries, Thailand fell one spot with a score of 4.3 out of 7 points. Indonesia secured second place in Southeast Asia, jumping from 44th to 32nd in the index conducted by the World Economic Forum.
Vietnam moved up from 60th to 52nd. Singapore kept the top spot in the region, though its ranking was unchanged.
The index is based on scores from 1-7, where 1 is the worst performance. The two key categories where Thailand declined were "Enabling Environment" and "Travel and Tourism Policy and Enabling Conditions".
For Enabling Environment, safety and security of the country was ranked 92nd with a score of 4.3, lagging behind the Asean average of 5.4. Thailand's health and hygiene ranking was 74th, with a score of 4.3.
For Travel and Tourism Policy and Enabling Conditions, prioritisation of travel and tourism dropped to 88th with a score of 3.7 points, the lowest in the region, which averaged 4.4.
Categories that posted an improved performance were "Infrastructure" and "Travel and Tourism Sustainability", while "Travel and Tourism Demand Drivers" remained unchanged.
However, even though the Thai sustainability score improved, its environmental sustainability was the lowest in the region at 3.6, ranked 97th overall.
The best score for Thailand was in price competitiveness at 5.6, but it was still lower than the regional average, which stood at 5.8.
"The root of the problems are outdated laws and ineffective implementation. On the environmental issue, we may have initiated many sustainable policies in the past few years, but it remains too slow in practice," said Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, president of the Thai Hotels Association. "In terms of outdated laws, the issue in the hotel industry is obvious as the current Hotel Act still prevents small and medium-sized hotels from properly registering. This prevents state authorities from mandating compliance with the rules, whether safety and environmental regulations or charging taxes that can help develop the city."
Mrs Marisa said another concern was the low prioritisation of travel in public policy. Over the past two years, tourism operators only benefited from one of many subsidy schemes -- "We Travel Together" -- despite the tourism industry contributing nearly 20% of GDP in the pre-pandemic years, she said.
Persistent problems with safety and security have plagued the country's reputation for many years, Mrs Marisa said, adding the government should take the issue more seriously to avoid repeating unpleasant outcomes.
Japan secured the top spot in the tourism index, followed by the US, Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, the UK, Singapore and Italy.