REBRANDING PATTAYA’S IMAGE
Businesses told to make area safer
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
Policemen at the launch of the ‘Happy Zone’ in Pattaya, Thailand, yesterday.