Thailand's economic recovery is being supported by stronger exports, but the pace will be affected by only a gradual recovery in the number of foreign tourists, the country's finance minister said on Wednesday.

Southeast Asia's second-largest economy was among the first destinations in Asia to reopen to vaccinated tourists last year, but authorities have been slower to remove entry rules perceived as more cumbersome than in other parts of the region.

"Our export sector is strong, but tourism recovery will be gradual," Arkhom Termpittayapaisith told an online business seminar, noting Thailand received about 700,000 visitors in the first four months of 2022.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand is targeting 5 to 15 million arrivals this year, spending between 630 billion baht to 1.2 trillion baht ($18.18 billion to $34.63 billion).

In 2019, Thailand welcomed nearly 40 million visitors, spending 1.93 trillion baht, with the tourism sector accounting for about 12% of gross domestic product.

In the first three months of 2022, exports grew 15% from the same period last year, said Arkhom, adding that they were a mainstay for the economy.

The minister said that the government needed to be careful about providing the right measures in supporting the recovery.

"In terms of the country, we still have to maintain fiscal and financial stability and will proceed carefully as to not create burden on future finances," he added.

At a separate briefing, Thailand's leading joint business group maintained its economic growth forecast at 2.5% to 4.0% for this year despite a rise in global commodity prices.

The inflation forecast was held at 3.5% to 5.5% for the year, said the group, which includes representatives from industry, banking and commerce. It also kept its export growth outlook of 3.0%-5.5% this year.

($1 = 34.6500 baht)

(Reporting by Satawasin Staporncharnchai, writing by Chayut Setboonsarng)