Thailand has a free-enterprise economy, generally pro-investment policies, and strong export industries.

Thailand has a labour force of 38.7 million people: 42.4% agriculture, 19.7% in industry and 37.9% in services. Agriculture makes up 10.4% of GDP, industry 45.6% and services 44%. (CIA World Factbook: accessed 4/5/11).

Thai exports drive the economy, accounting for more than half of GDP. In 2010, exports were estimated at a total of $191.3 billion USD; machinery and electronic components, minerals, agricultural commodities (rice, cassava (tapioca), rubber, corn, sugarcane, coconuts and soybeans), tourism and jewellery are the most important. Thailand is also fortunate with reserves of oil and natural gas but imports most of its electricity from Laos, with new dams projects now being seriously criticised by the lower Mekong neighbours.

The global financial crisis of 2008-09 severely cut Thailand’s exports, with most sectors experiencing double-digit drops.  Fortunately, slowly but surely, the economy is growing again.

The key driver of national development is Thailand’s National Economic and Social Development Plan (NESDP). The 10th plan (2007-2011), aims for a “Green and happy society treated with equality, fairness and immunity to changes, under the concept of the sustainable economy”. The 11th plan aims for a “happy society treated with equality, fairness and immunity to changes.” The plan aims to support environmentally friendly products and services.

Government Tourism Policy toward  Responsible Tourism

Goals related to the 10th Tourism Plan include managing tourism responsibly and supporting the strengths of different stakeholders towards success, while managing natural and environmental resources sustainably.

The Ministry of Tourism and Sports developed 26 standards in four groups: 1) standards for accommodation 2) standards for tourism services 3) standards for tourism activities 4) tourist attractions standards, which also cover eco-tourism and include ‘homestay standards’ for local community visits.

In 2003 the Designated Areas For Sustainable Tourism Administration was established under the Office of the Prime Minister to coordinate sustainable tourism management between government organisations, state enterprises, and local communities in destinations declared as “special areas for sustainable tourism”.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) recognises public awareness of global warming and the importance of quality information to attract responsible travellers. It directly supports sustainable tourism under its Seven Greens Concept (read more).

In 2011, the Ministry has pledged that Thailand will Go Green !

In 2009, following the global financial crisis, the government announced tourism as a national priority. A large budget was allocated towards it, with goals to support sustainable tourism.

Organisations such as The Greenleaf Foundation, The Thai Ecotourism and Adventure Travel Association (TEATA), and the Thailand Community Based Tourism Institute (CBT-I), have initiated many private-public-NGO sustainable tourism projects, often with support from international partners.

Changes in tourism have been enabled by corresponding movements in Thai society towards greater participation by local communities, awareness of the environment and climate change, and the concepts of corporate social responsibility and social enterprise, and in particular the dedication of some private operators.