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Friday, 11 August, 2000, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK
Thailand: Paradise lost?
Tourists at The Beach's beach
Hordes of tourists search for an unspoiled paradise
As police in Thailand investigate the murder of Welsh backpacker Kirsty Jones, BBC News Online looks at the country's tourist trade.

A decade or so ago, for British tourists Thailand was a frontier destination - adventurous and exotic. Today it is a favoured stop on the mainstream tourist trail.

Growing attraction
1990: 5.3 million visitors
1999: 8.58 million visitors
Tourists from the UK and Ireland jumped from 275,000 in 1997 to 426,000 last year
Tourists spent $9.1bn in 1998
After flying into Bangkok, a city that combines the flavours of the exotic east with all the conveniences of home, visitors typically head north to Chiang Mai - the gateway to the hill tribes and a bustling town of temples and night-markets - or south to the beaches lining the off-shore islands.

Matt Rudd, the assistant editor of Wanderlust magazine, says Thailand's popularity shows no sign of waning.

"Thailand keeps on going up. It's been a huge backpacker destination for the past 20 years, the first stop on the way to Australia. A lot of the more package-holiday tourists are heading for southern Thailand."

Tour operators are benefiting from heightened interest in The Beach
The Beach sparked a tourism bonanza
The number of tourists arriving in March, as Leonardo DiCaprio's escapist fantasy The Beach screened around the world, jumped by more than 8%, according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand. April's arrivals shot up by 23%.

Phi Phi Island was the location for the film, based on Alex Garland's cult novel about backpackers seeking an untouched paradise.

Locals and environmental groups alleged the area was damaged during the shoot and called for compensation, claims denied by Twentieth Century Fox.

Safety first

Ms Jones is the fourth British tourist to die in Thailand this year. One burned to death, one was gored by an elephant and another died from Legionnaire's Disease. A further 22 have been seriously injured.

Yet despite Ms Jones's death, Mr Rudd says it is a safe destination for those who take reasonable precautions.

Kirsty Jones
Kirsty Jones: Raped and murdered in hostel
The Thai police force is well-regarded, and takes crimes against tourists seriously, he says. After all, the economy of towns such as Chiang Mai depend on visitors from abroad.

"Yet it's not the locals, it's your own fellow travellers that pose the greatest threat.

"It's an easy place, and that can lead to a lack of safety awareness. You're on holiday. You're relaxed and the result is that you don't take precautions."

Chris Lee, of the tourism authority, says just two or three violent crimes against tourists are reported each year.

"It's a Buddhist culture and [Thais] are a gentle people. It's famous as the land of smiles for a reason."

He, and Mr Rudd, say the fatal attack could have happened anywhere.

"Like the fire in the backpackers' hostel in Queensland [which killed 15 backpackers in June], this murder will be at the back of people's minds," Mr Rudd says.

"Yet it was a very, very one-off event and to discourage people from travelling would be a great shame."

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See also:

11 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Men held over Thailand murder
24 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Hostel victims' bodies found
10 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Tourists flock to The Beach
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