Join us
Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) welcome sign

Become a member and discover where geography can take you.

Join us
A view over a beach in Phuket, Thailand

Working for tourism

This lesson looks at who is working in the tourist industry in Thailand, the people that make or break a holiday for passengers

Key question

Who works in Thailand's tourist industry and what do they do?

Who works in Thailand's tourist industry and what do they do?

Hundreds of thousands of Thais and migrant workers are employed in the Thai tourist industry which contributes tourism contributes over 5% of the Thai economy's GDP. As Thailand has become more prosperous, fewer Thai people are willing to work in jobs which are commonly known as "dirty, dangerous, and demeaning", and Burmese nationals have arrived in Thailand in increasing numbers to fill the labour shortage. The Royal Thai Government has recognized this need by establishing a series of registration processes which, although have had problems associated with them have been a good faith attempt to establish a legal framework and regularize the flow of migrants across porous borders with Myanmar (Burma), Laos, and Cambodia. Many of the young people come to work in Thailand in order to send money back to their families.

Burmese migrant workers make up approximately 80% of migrant workers in Thailand; Lao and Cambodian workers are the other two largest groups of migrant workers there. In addition there are over 143,000 Burmese refugees in Thai camps near the border, who are not permitted by the Thai authorities to work. Tens of thousands of Shan refugees are also in Thailand, but they are not allowed by the government to live in refugee camps. Most of the Shan refugees are migrant workers, many of whom would be at risk of serious human rights violations were they to be returned to Myanmar (Burma).

The 26 December 2004 tsunami affected Satun, Trang, Krabi, Phang Nga, Phuket, and Ranong provinces in Thailand, killing an unknown number of Burmese and other migrant workers, who had been employed in the hospitality, agricultural, construction, and fishery industries there.

The rapid reconstruction of many of the resorts devastated by the tsunami, including Phuket, was partly owing to a plentiful supply of cheap and flexible migrant labour form across Thailand's borders.

A growing sector of Thailand's tourism industry is medical tourism. Lower labour costs mean large cost savings on operations and procedures compared to private hospitals in countries such as the United States and arguably a higher level of care than many westerners are accustomed to receiving in hospitals back home. Over one million people per year travel to Thailand for everything from cosmetic surgery, hip replacements to cutting edge treatment. One patient who received a coronary artery bypass surgery at Bumrungrad International hospital in Bangkok said the operation cost him US$12,000, as opposed to the $100,000 he estimated the operation would have cost him at home. In 2006, medical tourism was projected to earn the country 36.4 billion baht.


Vladamir and Alena decide to go do down to Phuket (a resort island in the south west) and meet some Russian friends who are holidaying there, like many other Russians.

In 2006, the number of Russian visitors to Phuket was four times greater than 2005.

The big employer and earner

Tourism employs 4.1 million people in Thailand, more than 10% of the population.

What sort of jobs do they do?

Can you put them into categories?

Who do you think makes the big money from tourism?

Tourism makes so much money that it earns 6% of Thailand's GDP. But much of the money spent by tourists - about 70% - leaves Thailand in the pockets and bank accounts of foreign tour operators, airlines, hotels and food & drink distributors.

Main Activity

Why has Ao bought 30 mobile phone top-up cards?

Ao works on Phuket. He is from Myanmar (Burma), a country which borders Thailand.

In pairs or in groups, work out why he works there, and sort the information to find out why mobile phone top-up cards are so important to him?

Download the Ao mystery cards. Afterwards, ask yourself:

  • Why did does Ao work on Phuket?

  • What is right and wrong about his situation?

In the future, what might Ao want and need to improve his life?

Teachers' tip: look at the Ao mystery solution.

The 26 December 2004 tsunami killed more than 8,000 people in Thailand, including foreign holidaymakers and local people. Among the places badly hit was Phuket - but it has made an amazing recovery.

Read After the tsunami - winners and losers.


Body Beautiful

Caroline is visiting Thailand for a very different reason than the other passengers in row 15.

She wants a new nose. Caroline is one of a new breed of tourists known as medical tourists.

Read body beautiful - the rise of medical tourism to find out more about medical tourism in Thailand.

Use this and other information from the internet to produce an advert for one of Bangkok's hospitals to attract more medical tourists like Caroline.

File nameFiles

File type



Paradise Lost Lesson 4 Thailand Ao Mystery Cards


128 KB

Paradise Lost Lesson 4 Thailand Ao Mystery Cards (1)


224 KB

Paradise Lost Lesson 4 Ao Mystery Solution


148 KB

Paradise Lost Lesson 4 Ao Mystery Solution (1)


89 KB

Paradise Lost Lesson 4 After the Tsunami: Winners and Losers


37 KB

Paradise Lost Lesson 4 The Rise of Medical Tourism


116 KB

Download all files