RE­BRAND­ING PATTAYA’S IM­AGE

Busi­nesses told to make area safer

New Straits Times - - World -

PATTAYA

THE author­i­ties launched a “Happy Zone” at the week­end, with mas­cots dressed as smil­ing fish and a po­lice rock band, to im­prove the im­age of a city no­to­ri­ous for sex tourism.

Stung by for­eign head­lines por­tray­ing the sea­side re­sort here as “Sin City” and “The World’s Sex Cap­i­tal”, Thai­land’s junta has be­gun a new ef­fort to re-brand it.

How­ever, the con­tra­dic­tions here high­light Thai­land’s chal­lenge in tack­ling a side of its tourist in­dus­try that re­mains eco­nom­i­cally vi­tal while be­ing of­fi­cially ex­co­ri­ated.

“I want peo­ple to see that we are not like what they say. We do not al­low pros­ti­tu­tion in th­ese en­ter­tain­ment places,” pro­vin­cial gov­er­nor Pakkara­torn Teian­chai said on the in­fa­mous Walk­ing Street here, south­east of Bangkok.

Less than 10m away, women ac­costed for­eign men to of­fer sex for 2,000 baht (RM256). Oth­ers lined up with num­bers so cus­tomers could take their pick. Masseuses in miniskirts of­fered “happy end­ing” mas­sages, whose euphemistic ti­tle has noth­ing to do with the author­i­ties’ Happy Zone.

“Ev­ery­one is here to make a liv­ing,” said a wo­man, 35. She was tagged with the num­ber 136 and de­clined to give her name.

“I would rather be a wait­ress, but then I wouldn’t be able to send my chil­dren to school, and I want them to have a bet­ter fu­ture than this,” she said.

In fact, sex tourism is not grow­ing as fast as other as­pects of Thai­land’s tourist in­dus­try — the only bright spot for an econ­omy whose ex­pan­sion has been, by far, the slow­est among ma­jor South­east Asian economies since the 2014 coup.

The lat­est of many crack­downs here hap­pened after for­eign news­pa­per re­ports last month, which drew an an­gry re­sponse from junta leader Prayuth Chan o Cha, for whom bring­ing or­der is a mantra.

A hand­ful of bars were raided. Bar own­ers and work­ing women were fined. Scared to ven­ture out, tourists look­ing for sex stayed in ho­tels.

Street ven­dors and shops saw sales tum­ble. The money that flows to all lev­els in the city, in­clud­ing law en­force­ment agen­cies, fell off.

The Happy Zone ap­proach is a softer way to show that some­thing is be­ing done. If it works on Walk­ing Street, the idea will be spread to the less sani­tised side streets — the Sois.

Busi­nesses in the Happy Zone are asked to make the area feel safer, there are in­creased se­cu­rity pa­trols, po­lice launched a mo­bile phone ap­pli­ca­tion for vis­i­tors to sum­mon them in emer­gency.

“This is a pi­o­neer project to or­gan­ise a tourist des­ti­na­tion and el­e­vate it to pro­mote Thai­land’s qual­ity tourism,” city po­lice chief Apichai Krobpetch said.

“We will also stamp out pros­ti­tu­tion in the area.”

There was no sign of that at the week­end. Reuters

REUTERS PIC

Po­lice­men at the launch of the ‘Happy Zone’ in Pattaya, Thai­land, yes­ter­day.

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