The government is being urged to turn hot springs into special promotion zones to raise their potential as tourism destinations.
"We, the private sector, are pinning our hopes on hot springs becoming a popular new tourism destination, one that can generate revenue on a par with Japanese onsen [hot springs]," said Preecha Phoonpokphol, coordinator of the Hot Springs Club.
Thailand has facilities at 123 hot springs in 27 provinces.
Some 20% of these are operated by the private sector and the rest by state agencies.
But Mr Preecha said all of them desperately need better management, standards and quality.
Only a handful of operators now offer comprehensive services _ bath areas, spas, restaurants and lodging.
Mr Preecha pointed to Krabi province, where one bathing pond managed by the local administration takes in overall annual revenue of only 8 million baht.
But the 20,000 visitors each year are charged a basic entry fee of 20 baht each for only 400,000 baht a year.
Entrepreneurs recently banded together to form the Hot Springs Club after observing the popularity of onsen in Japan and realising how Thailand could benefit from a similar phenomenon.
The club wants the government to establish special promotion zones for hot springs, which would render them eligible for state support in the form of investment promotion and technical or even financial assistance.
"Thailand needs a better understanding of the benefits of hot springs, while Thais need to be educated on the health benefits," said Mr Preecha.
"More importantly, the country should study how to preserve hot springs for sustainable tourism."
He said the Japan External Trade Organization has expressed its readiness to provide technical support and know-how.
Deputy Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Bunsongphaisan recently tasked the National Economic and Social Development Board with formulating a business development plan for Thailand's hot springs.
About the author
- Writer: Chatrudee Theparat
Position: Business Reporter