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There are several sources that make a claim like that, I'm giving some of them:

I'm aware that Thailand is well known as a sex tourism country, but, even so, I find that for prostitution to make up 10% of its GDP it would be an extremely humongous phenomenon there.

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    Your first claim says that the tourism industry is 10%, which may be more credible (though still exaggerated)
    – pipe
    Mar 19, 2023 at 0:08
  • @pipe, I find the first claim to be ambiguous, not sure if "which" refers just to "tourism industry" or "the backbone of the tourism industry", anyway the other 2 claims make clear that 10% is just for the sex industry. Due to that, I think the first one also refers to 10% being generated by sex industry, but it has been written in an ambiguous way. Mar 19, 2023 at 10:03
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    @pipe 10% seems too low; before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was more in the order of 20%.
    – gerrit
    Mar 20, 2023 at 10:11
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    @gerrit the only statistic available on your link shows 65%, and this page shows about 3%. Mar 20, 2023 at 12:25
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    @WeatherVane Hm? I see a graph that shows 17.5% for three years, then (2020) it drops to ~5%.
    – gerrit
    Mar 20, 2023 at 14:45

1 Answer 1

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This difficult to estimate even in developed countries. Best I could find for East Asia, in general, is this from the ILO, from 1998 (duh!):

The sex sector in the four countries [Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand] is estimated to account for anywhere from 2 to 14 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and the revenues it generates are crucial to the livelihoods and earnings potential of millions of workers beyond the prostitutes themselves.

[...] In Thailand, for example, close to US$300 million is transferred annually to rural families by women working in the sex sector in urban areas, a sum that in many cases exceeds the budgets of government-funded development programmes. For the 1993-95 period, the estimate was that prostitution yielded an annual income of between US$22.5 and 27 billion.

The GDP of Thailand was about $200 billion back then (in 2015 dollars), so 10% doesn't seem outlandish. In fact it was probably more, percentage wise, in 1995 dollars.

Another press article, also from 1999 says

A study by a Thai university estimated the sex sector at around $25 billion, or 12% of the country's gross domestic product.

There are no other [relevant] details, but I suspect it's referring to the same dataset.

Wikipedia says

In 2015 Havocscope said that about US$6.4 billion in annual revenue was being generated by the trade, a figure which accounted for 10 percent of Thailand's GDP. Havocscope says that sex workers in Thailand send an annual average of US$300 million to family members who reside in more rural areas of Thailand.

So I suspect that's where the newer claims come from. The original article cited by Wikipedia doesn't load for me. And given that it's dropping the same US$300 figure as the much older ones, I suspect the actual data is the same, and probably just extrapolated i.e. carried forward.

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