"The police presence already drives off a number of clients who come to relax or drink at bars," said Surang Janyam, director of Service Workers in Group (SWING), which provides sex workers with free medical care and vocational training.
"Wiping out this industry is guaranteed to make Thailand lose visitors and income." Many sex workers come from the impoverished northeast and see selling their bodies as a way out of poverty.
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The military government is in denial about the proliferation of prostitution and its contribution to the economy and tourism, said Panomporn Utaisri, country director of Night Light, a Christian non-profit group that helps women in the sex trade to find alternative work.
"There's no denying this industry generates a lot of income," said Panomporn.
There are no government estimates of the value of Thailand's sex industry, or how much of the income from tourism comes from sex tourists.
There are about 123,530 sex workers in Thailand, according to a 2014 UNAIDS report, compared with 37,000 sex workers in neighbouring Cambodia.
Last month, police raided dozens of brothels in major cities in what they said was a routine operation.
Police said they were looking to prosecute venues employing underage and illegal migrant workers, but only one of the venues raided was shut down.
There was no link between the tourism minister's aim to rid Thailand of its sex tourism industry and the raids, a police spokesman said.
The tourism sector accounts for about 10% of gross domestic product and sex worker groups said the minister's vision of a prostitution-free Thailand would dent that.
BANGKOK: Thailand's infamous sex industry is under fire, with the tourism minister pushing to rid the country of its ubiquitous brothels and a spate of police raids in recent weeks on some of the largest establishments providing sex services in Bangkok.