Thailand has beaten the world’s most famous, traditional beach destinations including Spain, Mexico, USA, Greece and Turkey to take the number one position in the newly announced Global Beachfront Awards. Thailand won top spot with over 1,250 true beachfront hotels and resorts, followed by the USA with 1,016, Mexico with 943, Spain with 736 and Greece with 576.
This win follows Thailand’s meteoric, 88% rise in tourist numbers over the past five years, overriding both the global depression and its own well-publicized, internal political upheavals. Street violence and grenade attacks in Bangkok did little to slow the country’s burgeoning tourism business, which consistently outperformed all other global players by wide margins over the last five years. Figures from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (WTO) show that in 2013, for the first time, Thailand rose to join the world’s Top 10 most visited countries.This world-winning performance was powered by millions of international visitors flocking not to its golden temples but mainly to its beautiful tropical beaches. Last year 12 of Thailand’s 27 million international tourists visited the island of Phuket alone – and it has 12 more widely scattered beach destinations with over 30 beachfront resorts each.
Issued by The Beachfront Club, whose website maps beachfront hotels in detail, the Global Beachfront Awards claim to have accounted for over 12,000 accommodation establishments on beaches in 109 countries. The awards are a measure of the number of true beachfront accommodation establishments a country offers, and include all levels from beach bungalows to luxury, 5-star resorts.’True beachfront’, by the criteria of this Club, includes only those hotels directly on a beach or oceanfront with no road or traffic between the rooms and the water.
“True beachfront is the first choice of beach-lovers worldwide” says website founder John Everingham, an Australian and long-term resident of Thailand. “Especially for those who travel halfway around the planet, and spend large sums of money seeking the perfect beach.” The website is designed, he says, to help people find beachfront hotels anywhere on the planet while avoiding the misleading advertising of hotels that pretend to be on a beach, when in fact they aren’t. “Old hotel brochures were often designed to leave out roads and make a hotel appear to be right by the sand. Today it’s still commonplace on websites,” he says. “The Beachfront Club allows users to avoid such misleading advertising.”
Everingham’s photography work shooting Phuket hotels in the 1990s became the inspiration for the website. Assigned to hide roads and make the hotels look like they were right on the beach, when they weren’t, his embarrassment provided the motivation for the website.
Measuring only true beachfront hotels might not give a complete picture of a country’s beach tourism industry, says the Everingham. “However, it provides a good look at the top end of each country’s industry. It helps show how tourism has penetrated a country’s beaches, and shows how much choice each country provides to beach-loving visitors. One old-style, large hotel with hundreds of rooms cannot satisfy as many different tastes as several smaller ones scattered on different beaches.” Smaller, more personalized hotels, boutique and creative, says this web entrepreneur, are the trend all across Southeast Asia, the region of the world with the fastest growth by far in international arrivals, according to the WTO’s figures.
Thailand’s taking the number one position in the Global Beachfront Awards will surprise many, just as it did the website’s Bangkok-based creators. Wei Liang Yu, Chinese wife of the founder, the cartographer and a company director, says that when they began they first guessed that Thailand might have about 300 beachfront hotels.But then, as Everingham walked virtually every beach in the country, photographing and GPS-marking all beachfront hotels, the numbers climbed wildly, soaring beyond 1,200. Everingham also walked virtually beach in Bali, Vietnam and Myanmar that has a beachfront hotel, and is now working through the Philippines.
A second set of global awards, the Global Destination Beachfront Awards, has also been released by The Beachfront Club. This counts the total beachfront accommodations in a single beach destination within any country. Once again, Thailand triumphs as Koh Samui’s 270 qualified hotels overtakes the 250 in Riviera Maya, Mexico, while Crete Island in Greece comes in third with 194, and Mallorca in Spain follows with 187.
Rapid growth in beach tourism has not been limited to Thailand, however. Its neighbours also showed solid upswings in 2013, with Southeast Asia enjoying the biggest year-on-year increase of any region in the world. In spite of the deep crises in Western economies, the traditional beach destinations also enjoyed some growth over the five years from 2009 to 2013 – though it was comparatively slow. While Thailand enjoyed the huge 88%, five-year increase that thrust it into the world’s Top 10 tourism countries, Spain had a modest 16% increase, with Turkey and Greece trailing behind that. The Caribbean saw less than 10% growth over the same period, WTO figures show.
Momentum in global beach tourism shows a clear migration from the old destinations to the new, tropical islands and beaches of Asia. With long-distant air transport times and costs at all-time lows, beach-lovers are willing to spend 10 or more hours on a plane in the search for newer beaches and more natural environments.
Thailand, with shores facing both Pacific and Indian Oceans, and hundreds of islands in each, is clearly the biggest winner in the latest blush of humanity’s on-going love affair with the beach. Now that it’s right at the top of global beach tourism, it will need to consider something it has not yet stopped to ponder, says The Beachfront Club’s John Everingham – how to preserve its beaches’ natural beauty and help it stay on top.