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Opinion

The government gets a ‘rap’ on the knuckles

The Thaiger

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The government gets a ‘rap’ on the knuckles | The Thaiger

13 million views and still going strong. That’s 20% of the population of Thailand.

Any pop group would be astonished, amazed and pleasantly surprised by such popularity of their video clip in such a short time.

But in this case the clip is a subversive rap from ‘Rap Against Dictatorship’, a five minute rant against military rule in the Kingdom. The YouTube clip includes English subtitles.

“My country preaches morals, but has a crime rate higher than the Eiffel

My country’s Parliament is a soldiers’ playground

My country points a gun at your throat

Claims to have freedom but gives no right to choose

My country’s government is untouchable

The police use laws to threaten people

My country asks you to stay quiet or in jail.”

A military spokesperson, Col. Siriwat Deepor said on Friday said, “Investigators are trying to identify those in the clip, because the content is quite defamatory to the country and causing a lot of damage.”

He said that the group faces five years in jail and a 100,000 baht fine if convicted under the Computer Crime Act. Worryingly, he also threatened those sharing the clip would face the same punishment (several Thai media have already done so – we’re not quite so brave).

But it was only the start of this month when NCPO leader and current PM General Prayut Chan-o-cha fully embraced the social media world.

“Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who previously said his real happiness was staying away from social media, is now fully equipped with the famous platforms Facebook, Twitter, Instagram as well as his personal website…” – The Nation

Reactions at the time thought the Thai PM had proven a bit thin-skinned in the past when responding to criticism. The NCPO has responded to criticism over the past four and a half years with threats, ‘attitude adjustments’, the enforcement of the controversial Computer Crimes Act and charging perceived dissenters.

Plunging head first into the rabbit hole of social media, for any politician, will not be good for their ego. A few decades of social media show that it can be a toxic space for the faint-hearted.

You’ve either got to be a Donald Trump-type and use social media for all its good and bad, post any sort of rubbish and hope some of it sticks. Then go on the attack against your detractors. That takes time, ego and energy.

Or you just use it to spread the good word, block commentary and not engage your audience.

There’s not really much space in the middle with social media.

The Junta’s reaction, perhaps even over-reaction, to the rap song on YouTube, which attacks everything they don’t like about Thailand’s military government, has just added to the click’s fame.

The YouTube views have sky-rocketed since the government spokesperson spoke about it on Friday. Rounding up the musicians and charging them under the Computer Crimes Act will surely further add to their fame, the clip’s clicks and unwanted outcry from outside Thailand about a ‘heavy-handed unelected government’, etc, etc.

All this at a time when Prayut and his team are vying for voter love and support in their, yet unannounced, standing for election in next year’s poll. This test of their resolve has come at a bad time. If PM Prayut and his ministers are to stand for election they will need support from the widest constituency possible. That will include reaching out to their detractors as well and taking a few punches on the chin as part of the rough-and-tumble of democratic politics.

I pose two possibilities.

Option One

The Government rounds up and charges the team behind the offending rap. After questioning there would likely be some charges laid and a period of months waiting for their day in Court, likely to be a date post February 24, 2019, effectively silencing them in the time leading up to the election.

Option Two

The Prime Minister invites the group to government house, or sends one the country’s deputy PMs to Thammasat University, for a closed discussion. In this way, no one is losing face. Following any meeting there would be a ‘very Thai’ photo opportunity with a polite wai from the performers and a statement from both sides saying that they “appreciated the chance to meet and share their differences.” Everyone’s a winner.

The public relations outcomes for the Government would be very different.

The government’s newly appointed official spokesman, Puttipong Punnakanta, stated on Friday that the government feels sorry that Thailand’s young generation wants to harm the country.

“They should’ve used their musical talent in a way that is more beneficial to their motherland and become good role models to others,” he said. “I don’t want people to think that doing this is cool or fun. I’m not sure if they did it on their own will or if there’s someone else behind this.”

Youth sharing their voices and ranting against sitting governments and institutions is nothing new. In this case it’s just been words shared, not blood or civil disturbance.

Of course in 2018 their opportunities for doing so are vastly increased, compared to the old media paradigms. They must have either been acutely aware of the timing of their release or perhaps just uploaded the file as a dare.

Either way, the government’s reponse to the matter may play an important role in the next few month’s electioneering.



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Opinion

December 4 – Thailand’s national day of shame

Tim Newton

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December 4 – Thailand’s national day of shame | The Thaiger

Today is Thai Environment Day. Today convenience stores, trade stores and shopping malls will refrain from providing single-use plastic bags to shoppers and at the same time will campaign for donation of cloth bags to be distributed to hospitals for containing medicines.

Whether any of this actually happens, we will see.

The proposed plastic bag-free day is the outcome of a memorandum of understanding signed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and operators of convenience stores, trade stores and shopping malls to reduce the use of single-use plastic bags.

The cynical campaign is another chance for the Thai government to indicate its ‘commitment’ to the Thai environment and the reduction of single-use plastic bags whilst doing next to nothing to actually solve the problem.

Encouraging Thais to reduce their use of single-use plastic bags for one day out of 365 should be seen as national day of shame.

Thailand is one of the region’s main contributors to plastic waste floating around the seas with daily photos of dead sea-life making their way onto social media. Dead sea animals are routinely retrieved and, upon examination, are found to have ingested plastic bags or suffocated with plastic lodged in their mouths or around their necks.

The problem of single-use plastic bags, the removal of these items out of the retail chain and the proper disposal of plastics remains unmanaged and unplanned in Thailand.

Back in October the Central Pattana Group in Phuket, the operators of Central Festival and Central Floresta, who also own the TOPS supermarket chain and Family Mart convenience stores, loudly lauded their ‘no plastic bag’ campaign which meant they would ask customers if they really needed a plastic bag and offered a 200 baht cloth replacement… ONE DAY A MONTH.

Another cynical PR stunt without substance or any real commitment to reduce the amount of single-use plastic bags marching out the doors of their retail stores and shopping centres.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment is saying that after the “plastic bag-free day” today, all the stores and malls will work out their own measures to reduce the use of the plastic bags, such as designating a day or a few days of a week that no plastic bags will be provided to shoppers.

In other words next-to-nothing. No commitments, no targets, just vague words without any concrete action from the Thai Government.

According to unofficial estimates, each Thai generates 1.4 kilograms of garbage a day or 74,000 tonnes of garbage a day for the entire population which means that a total of 2,960 10-wheel trucks with the capacity of hauling 25 tonnes of garbage each will be needed to carry the trash to dump sites or land fills for disposal.

There is enough evidence from multiple studies and surveys (or just walk along any Thai beach) to show that single-use plastics are a major environmental threat and need urgent political attention and action instead or meaningless words and PR stunts.

And watch today as thousands and thousands of Thais will, like every other day, stop on the roadside to purchase their delicious Thai iced coffee in a plastic cup, with a plastic cup-cover, in a plastic bag with a plastic straw.

December 4 - Thailand’s national day of shame | News by The Thaiger

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Opinion

How will ‘Chindia’ change Phuket’s tourism future?’

Bill Barnett

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How will ‘Chindia’ change Phuket’s tourism future?’ | The Thaiger

What exactly is this Chindia?  In a nutshell it’s a flash drive marketplace with 1/3 of the world’s population – China and India.

For a great number of Phuket hoteliers, the first half of 2018 saw marketplace velocity, where RevPAR’s rose on surging demand, and the most often heard comment was the ignominious ‘same same’. Though room rate growth was not there, volume ruled the day.

Next came, what is referred to on the Mainland as the ‘boat sinking’ and suddenly the monsoon gloom thrust the blazing sun into a dark room, way out back. Chinese numbers sunk, airlift declined and online chatter in China denounced not only Phuket but cast a broader shadow on Brand Thailand.

The traditional concept that the mojo of Thai teflon would result in only a slight momentary blip turned out to be erroneous. While the fallout from the incident has lessened, there remains a strongly demonstrated downward shift in Mainland Chinese tourists to both Phuket and Thailand.

What is clear is that there can be no separation in negative sentiment between Phuket and the larger Thai brand. Essentially both get a collective emoji award with an ‘un-smiley’ face.

Another negative has been the depreciation of the Mainland Chinese currency, the yuan. While most of the damage has been done over the past 4 years, this year has seen further erosion, as the Thai baht has remained strong.

Hoteliers staring into the looking glass of the fast approaching 2019 are increasingly being fixated by the magnetic attraction of Chindia. What exactly is this Chindia?  In a nutshell it’s a flash drive marketplace with 1/3 of the world’s population – China and India.

What’s most attractive is door-to-door average flying time to major gateways in both countries of 4 to 5 and a half hours. Over the years I have been asked the question “what is the secret of Phuket’s success?” A great deal of it actually has to do with geography.

Geography has a lot to do with accidental tourism. One can look back to 1967 and the ensuring decade when Thai Airways was instrumental in opening up broad access to Bali which was a connector from Bangkok, and fitting into the Sydney to London route as key access points. In those days, the constraints of long-haul flights made the refueling stop necessary but fast forward to the present and the emergence of single body dominated low-cost airlines fits like a glove into the Phuket Chindia equation. Yes history buffs, Thailand’s flag carrier was a key enabler of early stage Bali hotel growth.

There is little doubt that Indian tourism holds great promise for Phuket. Geography helps, as does the depth of the islands tourism sector to cater to marque events like Indian weddings. Looking into the numbers is enlightening, as there are two significant events on the island which are both valued in excess of US$10 million in spend.

Leading the change has been India’s GoAir who launched direct flights between Phuket and New Delhi as well as Mumbai in October. Next month Bengaluru will be added. Will other Indian carriers such a IndiGo or Jet Airways follow, or will AirAsia join the fray? It’s clearly only a matter of time.

Just last week, I was talking about STR hotel performance data on Phuket in October, and the fact is year-on-year performance remains ‘constrained’ or in straight talk -broad business is down. Inside the numbers some hotels have held traction but in the big picture, the loss  is evident event to the blindsided types out there.

The China situation has been hurtful. And though it’s comforting to see Russian travelers at Phuket International Airport lugging pink and blue plastic buckets of mangos around, the reality is the island’s tourism market is a year-round proposition and relying on snowbirds alone won’t cut it.

We live in an industry that flirts with the thin line between love and hate. The Chinese came, they were loved, then hated and now truly missed. With India, the play is cautious optimism, but the mounting importance of a solid Chindia strategy is the most prolific question facing island hotels now and in the coming year.

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Koh Samui

Koh Samui balancing on tourism razor’s edge

Bill Barnett

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Koh Samui balancing on tourism razor’s edge | The Thaiger

PHOTO: www.thekalasamui.com

“…shrinking Chinese demand due to the economic slowdown and depreciation for the yuan versus the baht”

The time has come to open the discussion about the troubling drop in one of Thailand’s leading resort destinations, Koh Samui.

Looking into the island’s performance numbers, according to data from international  hospitality benchmarking  group STR, at the end of August room night demand was down year-to-date by 4.4%.

Viewing a broader market metric C9 Hotelworks research has shown through September that hotel occupancy for the first nine months of the year declined by over 7% compared to the same period in 2017.

One cannot simply account for the dismal numbers as an effect of the China ‘boat sinking’ crisis which was triggered in the middle of the year. Airlift is the elephant in the room of island tourism destinations. During the first six months of this year, domestic arrivals at Koh Samui Airport dropped by 19%, with each month reflecting a negative variance compared to the same month in 2017.

Many industry watchers have pointed to the termination of Thai Airways International flights between Bangkok and Koh Samui in September as a trigger. The reality of the airlift in fact is TG retired an aging 737-400 jet that was used to service the route. It lacks an appropriate replacement given the island’s short runway and negotiated a codeshare agreement with Bangkok Airways to ensure travelers transit seamlessly.

One telling indicator of the market malaise is Surat Thani Airport on the mainland. Over the past few years a rising number of Chinese travelers had used the gateway and were ferried on to Koh Samui. Diving into the latest available data, international arrivals at Surat Thani for the period of January through September dropped 36%, while domestic arrivals only slightly moved downward by 1%.

Armed with the numbers I started a dialogue with island hoteliers to better understand the situation. For the most part, there were similar stories about shrinking Chinese demand due to the economic slowdown and depreciation for the yuan versus the baht.

Arguably the legacy European markets were slower based on the impact of a World Cup year. Lastly is the rise of Vietnam’s beach destination’s including Da Nang, Nha Trang and Phu Quoc.

Ultimately there is little doubt though that the sheer cost of airfares to Koh Samui remain a vital barrier to entry. Phuket continues to see more low-cost airline carriers which has contributed to growth in price sensitive markets. Samui’s environmental restrictions on the number of daily flights and lack of airline carrier diversity in the LCC space has created a glass ceiling.

For hotels, frankly there is no easy answer. The island has somewhat avoided the massive development crush of other resort locations in Thailand and Southeast Asia, but the nature of the island’s economic dependence on tourism has caged the golden goose. Damned if they do or damned if they don’t, the path to tourism maturity comes with a price tag with either staying small or going big. The hotel and tourism sector will likely remain stressed going forward, though certain niches such as luxury properties and wellness offerings tend to buck the trend.

To sum up the future, something has to happen with the airport issue to balance mounting infrastructure drains. The continued influx of Full Moon travellers transiting to nearby Koh Phangan and early stage development of Koh Tao are just another part of the equation.

In short, Koh Samui either needs to find a way to grow the existing airport or else find a new location and long-term solution to the airport conundrum.

Koh Samui balancing on tourism razor’s edge | News by The Thaiger

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