According to the Swedes, who know a good holiday when they see one, the best “tourist country” in the world is Thailand, for the sixth consecutive year. Australia, notes the report in the Pattaya Daily News, places second in the list of Sweden’s favourite destinations.

But enough about Australia…the sun, the sea, the great wide yonder…

I am more immediately curious about these travel awards and what they mean for Southeast Asia. Anyone hoping to learn more will find details on last year’s “Swedish Grand Travel Awards” available here. The Norwegians have a similar batch of awards which I once referenced in relation to this short piece on tourism in Southeast Asia.

Right now all of the hype I am hearing is that the era of inexpensive airfares is apparently coming to an end and that many Europeans will no longer be able to afford their long-haul vacations. And with other news that there are much heftier fuel surcharges on the way there is a chance that predictions of the death of really cheap air travel are perhaps not that premature.

At the same time there is a report that Australians (and others, of course) are increasingly taking cosmetic surgery holidays to Southeast Asia. Obviously many people are still yet to feel the pinch from any increased costs. And cosmetic surgery is a special case where other costs (like a stint at Bumrungrad) can make even expensive airfares cost-effective (or so I am led to believe).

So, whatever the mixed messages tell us – where does this leave Thailand’s tourism sector? Of all the countries where I have ever lived or visited it is the one that has the most obvious links to the global tourist economy (although, as an aside, the UK must be right up there, too). Does this make it particularly vulnerable? And, it goes without saying, very few of Thailand’s tourists currently come overland.

Could its tourist industry survive any great downturn in the number of arrivals by plane? In the past few years those numbers have stayed very strong. Surely this is not inevitable (look at Burma).

Do New Mandala readers foresee a time when tourism to Thailand slumps into insignificance? When the footpaths of Sukhumvit no longer bustle with the world’s vacationers, and when the mountains of the north don’t vibrate with the roar of their motorbikes or four-wheel drives? Is there a precedent for this in other parts of the world – a once gigantic tourist sector that, simply, withers away? To be replaced by different economic activities? Or none?

Ideas from readers are, as always, very welcome. It would be great to hear your thoughts on what must be one of the more compelling topics for the future of the Thai economy. Or does tourism, really, not matter one jot? Tell us what you really think.