Hoping for better days

Hoping for better days
Party time: Foreign revellers enjoy themselves at the monthly Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan in Surat Thani in this file photo.

The business sector says Thailand’s tourism has not reached its peak. Many say the complicated tourist visa application process, criminal activities and delays in the formation of the next government have discouraged tourists.

Chaiyapruk Thongkam, president of the Association of Domestic Travel, said a lull in the sector expected in the second half of this year would result in similar tourist numbers as H1, due to intractable factors such as natural disasters and unstable politics.

In terms of numbers, the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA) found that during the first seven months of the year, Thailand welcomed 1,935,241 Chinese tourists. ATTA forecast the number of Chinese tourists might not reach the target of 5 million set for the year but rather reach 4.2-4.5 million Chinese visitors instead.

“The exhausting process of establishing a new government might be followed by protests. Plus, tourism agencies will have to rely on the next government to finalise the annual budget,” Mr Chaiyapruk said.

“If the government comes together quickly, we will be able to prepare tourism campaigns for the country,” he added. The number of domestic tourists at the moment is only 50-60% of the estimated total for the high season, running from October this year to April next year.

“If we were subsidised by the government, we would design programmes to take tourists to visit small or regional cities and offer guides for cross-provincial trips,” Mr Chaiyapruk added.

Targeting short-haul tourists

The caretaker government has tried to attract long-haul tourists from Europe, the United States and the Middle East as they tend to stay longer and have more spending power.

Mr Chaiyapruk said that in his view, Thailand should focus on attracting more tourists from countries in Asia, such as Japan.

“We should focus more on countries where air travel is convenient, especially Japan. Thailand has yet to become a top destination for Japanese tourists so we should try penetrating their market,” Mr Chaiyapruk said.

Meanwhile, domestic tourism has slowed due to demand for international flights. Air carriers are shifting their domestic planes to international routes to cater to foreign travellers.

When asked about the number of Chinese tourists after China reopened after Covid-19 earlier this year, Mr Chaiyapruk said the number of tourists from this source has fallen short of target.

One notable issue is that Chinese tourists find it hard to apply for Thai tourist visas. Many say visas on arrival take too much time and cost more than they did before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Plus, immigration services at train stations along the Thai border are not fully functional, which costs Chinese tourists on high-speed trains both time and money. The trains now connect China and Laos.

As a result of these problems, many have switched to visiting Vietnam where the immigration process is less complicated and travel facilities more amenable, said Mr Chaiyapruk.

“The government should hold talks about visa exemptions under bilateral agreements. The policy should be loose enough to encourage international tourists to visit Thailand,” he said.

Chaiyapruk Thongkam, president of the Association of Domestic Travel

On Aug 10, the government further relaxed its tourist visa requirements and shortened the standard time required for approving visas for Chinese visitors to make the process easier.

Under the new requirements, Chinese visitors are only required to submit just six documents along with their visa application.

These are their passport, three photos, an air ticket, a document showing where they are staying, a document certifying their permanent residence, and financial statements, says deputy government spokeswoman Rachada Dhnadirek.

This will also soon halve the application process to seven working days.

Islands still popular

Ratchaporn Poonsawat, chairman of the Tourism Association of Koh Samui, said most visitors to Koh Samui are from European countries and make up 80-90% of hotel occupancies.

He added that two full-moon parties will take place this month, which are likely to draw tourists to Koh Samui and Koh Phangan until September.

Ratchaporn: ‘Safety still a concern’

Earlier this month, the shocking news of a Colombian plastic surgeon being murdered by his boyfriend put Koh Phangan in the spotlight again.

Mr Ratchaporn said the murder stemmed from personal issues between the couple and would not affect the overall tourism situation.

He said safety issues concern tourists more, such as ferry and pier safety standards and the risk of road accidents.

“Thailand is still ranked as one of the countries with the most road accidents and many tourists ignore traffic rules,” said Mr Ratchaporn.

Locals and entrepreneurs in Koh Samui and Koh Phangan are aware of the importance of safety.

Mr Ratchaporn said the recent murder of the Colombian surgeon was quickly solved and police made sure the legal process was transparent.

Nonetheless, many are concerned that crime in Thailand will affect the country’s tourism image.

Slowly but surely: People arrive at Suvarnabhumi airport which has recorded a steadily increasing number of international arrivals.

Ensuring tourist safety

Pol Lt Gen Sukhun Prommayon, commissioner of the Tourist Police Bureau, admitted that murders among foreign tourists in Thailand are difficult to prevent for they tend to be personal matters.

While street crimes still concern locals and tourists, the crime rate has dropped as police regularly patrol around popular tourist areas.

Police also work with local entrepreneurs to solve scams targeting foreign tourists. “I do not believe crimes in Thailand are pushing tourists away,” Pol Lt Gen Sukhun said. He said vigilant civilians can help police learn about local crimes.

Pol Lt Gen Sukhun said the declining number of Chinese tourists coming to Thailand might also be because of the Chinese economy and false information released to make tourists nervous.

“[Police] are working to battle fake news spreading among Chinese tourists who are interested in a holiday in Thailand.

“The news said they would be held hostage for a ransom or ripped off in scams where people have their organs harvested, which is just false,” said Pol Lt Gen Sukhun.

Now the visa application process has eased, the number of Chinese travellers should increase by the end of this year, he predicted.

Sukhun: ‘Fake news puts people off’

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Critics slam Pheu Thai's 'betrayal'

‘Uncle’ parties likely to join govt

Critics slam Pheu Thai's 'betrayal'
Pheu Thai key figures, from right, its deputy leader Phumtham Wechayachai, secretary-general Prasert Chanthararuangthong, and leader Cholnan Srikaew are at a press conference on the party’s bid to form the next government at the parliament on Aug 9. (Photo: Chanat Katanyu)

Critics have slammed the Pheu Thai Party over its attempt to bring the so-called uncle parties into its coalition, accusing the party of betraying the people.

They said the make-up of the Pheu Thai-led coalition government will be no different from the outgoing government as only Pheu Thai will serve as a new addition.

Pheu Thai is coming under heavy criticism for reneging on its word before the May 14 election that it would not work with the “uncle” parties, referring to those linked to military leaders involved in the 2014 coup.

The “uncles” refer to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, the former United Thai Nation Party (UTN) chief adviser and its prime ministerial candidate, and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, the leader and prime ministerial candidate of the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP).

According to a source, Pheu Thai has now sealed a deal with the PPRP in which the PPRP has agreed to vote for Pheu Thai’s prime ministerial candidate in exchange for slices of the cabinet quota cake.

However, the UTN has not yet confirmed whether it will join the coalition. If the UTN also agrees to join, the Pheu Thai-led coalition will boast 315 MPs, the source said.

Pheu Thai has 141 MPs while Bhumjaithai has 71 MPs, the PPRP 40, the UTN 36, Chartthaipattana 10, Prachachat 9, Pheu Thai Ruam Palang 2, Chartpattanakla 2, with Seri Ruam Thai Party, Plung Sungkom Mai, Thongthee Thai and the New Democracy Party all having one MP each.

Wanwichit Boonprong, a political science lecturer at Rangsit University, said the PPRP and the UTN are Pheu Thai’s old foes.

”If they work together, people may suspect that they do so for the sake of their own interests regardless of how their supporters feel,” Mr Wanwichit said.

”If they join hands, they will find it hard to work together. Pheu Thai cannot expect to have a free hand in handling economic affairs as it wishes because the two parties will want to have a share.

“It will be difficult for Pheu Thai to implement several of its policies. As a result of its decision to bring the uncle parties into the coalition, votes for Pheu Thai are likely to decline at the next election,” Mr Wanwichit said.

Olarn Thinbangtieo, a political science lecturer at Burapha University, echoed the view, saying Pheu Thai had previously said it would not work with the UTN and the PRRP.

If it goes back on its word, it can expect to see people take to the streets, and if demonstrations persist, the economy will be affected, he said.

Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn, a Move Forward Party (MFP) list-MP, tweeted that the configuration of the Pheu-Thai led coalition will be no different from that of the outgoing government if the UTN and PPRP join it.

“Another party comes as a new addition and only serves to provide support for a dictatorship,” Mr Wiroj tweeted, apparently referring to Pheu Thai.

Amarat Chokepamitkul, a key figure of the MFP, also posted on Facebook: “The people will not get any new government. It is only the previous government, with Pheu Thai added to it.”

Ekachai Hongkangwan, a red-shirt activist, said red-shirt supporters have made sacrifices to oppose illegitimate powers, and called on Pheu Thai not to betray them by working with parties that support a dictatorship.

Former red-shirt guard chief Sombat Thongyoi posted on Facebook that no matter how red-shirt groups protest, this could not stop Pheu Thai from forming a coalition government including the PPPR and UTN.

Meanwhile, Pol Maj Gen Jirasant Kaewsaeng-ek, deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Bureau (MPB), on Saturday warned road users to avoid Sunday’s “car mob” rally.

A convoy of cars will start from BTS Mor Chit station and proceed to the headquarters of the Bhumjaithai Party and Pheu Thai, he said.

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Unusual hotels and food in Japan: From heritage ryokan to Hida beef, Miyajima oysters and Kanazawa curry

Like many Singaporeans, my family loves visiting Japan. I’ve been to Japan eight times but mostly stuck to Tokyo. This time, travelling with my teenage son in June, we ventured further – to five different cities.

One reason was because we were already buying a 14-day JR Pass (47,250 yen or S$459 at press time; a seven-day pass costs 29,650 yen; a 21-day pass 60,450 yen), which allows unlimited travel on all local and high-speed trains throughout Japan. Come October 2023, prices will increase by at least 65 per cent, so we decided to make our money’s worth during our trip.    

Japan is split into eight regions but to cut down on travelling time, we skipped Hokkaido (northern Japan) and Kyushu (far south). Landing in Tokyo in the morning, we hopped onto our first Shinkansen to Takayama via transit at Nagoya.

Takayama, because of its well-preserved Edo-period historical centre – and because we wanted to eat its famous Hida beef. We also wanted to visit the UNESCO World Heritage site of Shirakawa-go, renowned for its unique Gassho-zukuri architecture and a 50-minute bus ride away.

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'We want you to still feel at home': How NLB designs its libraries to be more than just for reading

The library has also expanded to two floors on the fourth and fifth floor of Lot One shopping mall to attract more visitors. Inspired by library@harbourfront where the adult and junior collections are separated, Ms Shu’s team placed the children’s section on the upper floor. 

Not only has she received fewer complaints from readers about noise, it is more convenient for children to move from the children’s section to the shopping mall’s playground outside the library on the same floor. 

While Ms Shu said the library’s demographics have shifted from having more elderly to an increase in young adults and older teenagers, she added that “whether they read a physical book or an e-book doesn’t really matter to me, as long as they come and enjoy the space”. 

“In Singapore, we are so limited with land and space that I feel like in this library, this is one thing that we have done well,” she added.

“And when patrons come in and they see that there’s this vast amount of space where they can walk around and sit around – we have kids who even lie around – that it’s really very inviting. Even if they don’t pick up a book from my shelves, but they are enjoying themselves … that’s fine.”

From Choa Chu Kang to Punggol, a library is now “about building people connections” rather than getting visitors to “passively read a book”, added Ms Shu. “That’s something that NLB would like to change.”

Mr Wan, whose planning and development team comprises people from various disciplines such as architecture and exhibition curation, hopes that future libraries will evoke a “sense of familiarity but also a sense of wonder” in every visitor.

“When people come in, (I want them to) know that it is still able to fulfil your basic needs, in terms of (providing) the content you’re looking for, for studying or working. Or maybe you tell me, ‘Hey, I just want a place to relax. I just want a quiet place where I can gather my thoughts, where I can be myself,'” he said.

“We want you to come in and still feel like you’re at home.”

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Srettha predicts no-fuss PM vote

Pheu Thai targets support of 315 MPs

Srettha predicts no-fuss PM vote
Srettha Thavisin

Srettha Thavisin, Pheu Thai Party’s prime minister candidate, is confident he will garner enough support from both houses to be named as the new PM in a single round of voting.

Mr Srettha is tipped to be nominated for the premiership in a joint sitting of the two Houses in the next round of selection. Senate Speaker Pornpetch Wichitcholchai has said the vote will likely take place on Aug 22.

It will be the first time a Pheu Thai prime minister candidate will be nominated for a vote after Move Forward Party Leader Pita Limjaroenrat failed to be picked for the top job amid legal uncertainty over his renomination.

“I am hopeful that I will be backed by senators and MPs from all parties,” the real estate tycoon said on Saturday. He also thanked the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) for pledging to vote for him.

Mr Srettha said it is still too early to say whether the two “uncles” parties will join a Pheu Thai-led coalition, referring to the PPRP and the United Thai Nation (UTN) Party.

The PPRP is led by Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is UTN’s former chief adviser.

Critics have rebuked Pheu Thai for considering partnering with either party, dismissing them as a legacy of the National Council for Peace and Order dictatorship.

A coalition with 315 MPs in the 500-MP House of Representatives would make a stable government.

Mr Srettha also downplayed an ethics investigation by the Senate into his alleged complicity in property developer Sansiri Plc’s alleged tax evasion case. The accusation was made by whistle-blower Chuvit Kamolvisit.

Mr Srettha, who served as Sansiri CEO, said he trusts the Senate committee will treat him fairly in the probe.

In other news, Pheu Thai deputy leader Phumtham Wechayachai said the party has so far managed to assemble a coalition made up of eight parties with a total of 238 MPs.

Combined with 40 MPs from the PPRP, the tally would be 278. If UTN joined, the number would rise to 314.

“The UTN hasn’t made clear if the party will be in the coalition line-up,” Mr Phumtham said, adding the support of 278 MPs would lead to a stable government.

A party may support Pheu Thai’s candidate without being in the coalition, he said. He said a new Pheu Thai-led government would focus on taking care of the people’s needs and amending the constitution.

He said he saw no problems in welcoming the PPRP and UTN into the coalition. “The election is over. The poll result is clear. We have to live with the reality of the present.”

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'Don't Ask Why': South Korea grapples with back-to-back 'Mudjima' stabbings

A police officer stands in the middle of passing shoppers at a shopping centre which was the site of a mass stabbing attack on 3 AugustEPA

A knife darting out in a packed subway car. An assailant, chasing shoppers, stabbing wildly in the street.

These nightmares have played out in the minds of many South Koreans following a mass stabbing attack last week – the country’s second in as many weeks.

On 3 August, 14 people were injured in Seongnam, south-east of Seoul, when a man rammed his car into pedestrians near a subway stop, and then ran into a department store, where he stabbed nine people. One woman died later from her injuries.

“What’s happening in South Korea these days?” cried citizens online afterwards – dazed by back-to-back stabbings in a nation known otherwise for low rates of violent crime.

“Our country used to be one of the safest in the world… but recently I can’t say that any more,” one commented on YouTube.

Just days earlier, on 21 July, another man had attacked commuters in the capital, killing one person and stabbing three more at a subway station. He later told police he lived a miserable life and “wanted to make others miserable too”.

The second attacker may have taken notes from him, evidence later showed.

The 22-year-old suspect, Choi Won-jong, was a delivery driver and high-school dropout who had been diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder. Police said he had googled for news about the first attack, at Sillim Station.

Choi Won-jong, a 22-year-old man under arrest for a stabbing rampage, is escorted out of a police station in Seongnam, South Korea on 10/08/2023 as he is sent to prosecutors on charges of murder and attempted murder.

EPA

‘Mudjima’ crimes

In South Korea, they are known as “Don’t Ask Why” or Mudjima crimes – inexplicable acts of violence targeting strangers, driven by no personal link to victims or obvious motive.

While they’ve been called Mudjima by the public for years, it was only in 2022 that South Korean police officially designated such crimes as a distinct category: “Abnormal Motive Crimes”.

With specific definitions and a task force set up to combat them, the move appeared to show authorities finally taking the crimes seriously. In the first half of this year, police recorded 18 Mudjima acts.

While overall data shows no rise in violent crime – South Korea last year in fact recorded its lowest rates in a decade – the recent stabbings have driven the perception that Mudjima acts are more common, and society more dangerous.

It has even led to some commentators making comparisons with the US, with online remarks: “It’s the American mentality that’s going viral in South Korea” and “OMG South Korea has become the USA of Asia”.

However, experts reiterate that South Korea remains a very safe country.

“Murder and other violent crime rates are very low compared to other countries, and they have been steadily declining in the last 10 years,” said Prof Hyojong Song, a criminology expert at Korea University in Seoul.

South Korea’s homicide rate – down to 1.3 murders per 100,000 people – is half the average of OECD nations, and less than a fifth of America’s murder rate. And there are strict gun controls.

Many online said the crude comparisons to the US mask what authorities need to do locally: “They need to take a look at South Korea’s own social issues that have led to this,” one user wrote.

A woman walks past the scene where a random stabbing attack occurred, in front of a department store in Seongnam

Reuters

While the details surrounding the perpetrators are still sketchy, the little revealed so far has already fuelled public speculation and anger.

“These days there are jobless losers who are taking their ills out on everybody else,” one user wrote on Tiktok, in a vein of commentary which has become common online.

Another, on Youtube, argued that “in the past, only psychopaths would do something like this, but now we are living in a world where ordinary people are becoming murderers. People don’t have hope, the sense of panic is high and sense of happiness is low.”

Experts have pointed to underlying social pressures in South Korean society – from unstable job prospects and housing, to a continued stigma around mental health and a lack of support services. Police said Choi had not received adequate treatment.

“Fundamentally, I think we need to have some emotional and instrumental social support systems or policies that can help those who are disconnected from society, with no social bond,” Prof Song told the BBC.

Copycat threats

What fuelled continued anxiety among the public after last week’s stabbing was the wave of threats that popped up, vowing copycat attacks.

The online posts stated specific timings and locations, and some even named the gender of the victims they wanted to kill. One person vowed to “kill as many people as possible.”

Although many dismissed them as the work of juveniles and attention seekers, they succeeded in unnerving people.

On social media, users posted warnings for the weekend of 4-6 August: “Please avoid these areas in South Korea” was one TikTok video which drew more than 300,000 views across Asia.

“Go ahead and screenshot this- here’s a list of public stabbings on the weekend,” the host, a North American expat in Seoul, says in the video. Several subway stations were named as attack spots – as well nightlife areas, an amusement park and a women’s university stop.

“Be careful, be mindful of surroundings and stay safe out there,” they say.

In response, police mounted a “special enforcement” operation for the weekend, dispatching thousands more officers to public sites. They were told to stop and search “suspicious-looking” people- at least one person was arrested after he was seen carrying knives in public.

Heavily armed police patrol a Seoul shopping strip on 5 August, the weekend after a mass stabbing

YONHAP/EPA

Authorities also moved in on the online threats, tracing people across the country through internet service addresses and tip-offs.

Following the weekend operation, police said they had identified nearly 200 threats and arrested about 60 people – 34 of whom were teenagers, several aged 14 or under and therefore not liable for criminal prosecution.

One 17-year-old boy was detained for making a stabbing threat at a train station in Wonju, then reporting it to police as a tip-off.

In another case, a 14-year-old was arrested outside the subway station he had listed as a target. He had told police he had no murderous intent, but was “bored, and posted it as a joke”.

As more and more days pass without incident, some of the immediate public tension is fading.

However, fear remains on the edge of people’s minds. More people are carrying protective weapons, like mace sprays. And on subway platforms and in other crowded areas, more are staying vigilant and wary of those around them.

Last Saturday, exuberant fans on a night train returning from a BTS member’s concert sparked a near stampede, when their excited shrieks were mistaken for terror. Passengers who ran away said later they felt like they’d been in a zombie film.

A web service set up to map online threats drew more than 50,000 views in its first days of operation last week, local media reported. The service is still recording new threats each day.

On Wednesday, Korean media also reported police had identified the poster of an online threat within eight minutes of it going out. The “acts of terror” have fuelled political discussion around cracking down on crime.

Lawmakers in the past week have promised harsher criminal punishments for mass stabbings, lowering the age of criminal responsibility and amending laws to justify heavy-handed police action. On Monday, the country’s justice minister said the use of force by police should be considered self-defence.

An editorial this week in the Korean Herald summed up many people’s feelings: “It is deeply shocking to witness such violent crimes committed in a country known for a relatively high level of public safety.

“A thorough investigation to identify the specific motives of the horrifying crimes should be carried out. At the same time, police must take steps to prevent copycat crimes.”

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Commentary: Gen Alpha should be learning about money from schools, not TikTok

Meanwhile, easy access to credit due to fintech advancements also presents its own challenges, potentially hindering Gen Alpha’s ability to learn saving habits and avoid debt.

And of course, this generation faces unique economic uncertainty. A looming global recession, inflation, the COVID-19 pandemic and technology disruptions in the workplace all make it harder for them to plan for their financial future and understand the importance of financial resilience.

ASIA, PRIME TESTING GROUND FOR YOUTH FINANCIAL LITERACY PROGRAMMES

Home to 60 per cent of the world’s youth population, Asia has an undeniable imperative to get financial literacy education right. The stakes could not be higher.

Many people lack basic knowledge of financial concepts such as budgeting, saving, and investing. According to a 2015 survey by Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services, two-thirds of adults worldwide are not financially literate. The study, involving more than 150,000 adults, gauged their understanding of financial concepts such as inflation, interest rates, and risk diversification.

This is intrinsically tied to the scarcity of financial education in schools, compounded by a dearth of resources and qualified educators to impart financial knowledge and skills.

Also, in the fast-growing Southeast Asian markets, demonstrating social status through conspicuous consumption is highly valued, particularly for the emerging middle classes. The pursuit of luxury items or extravagant experiences, driven by a quest for social validation, can jeopardise prudent long-term financial planning.

There is also the issue of limited access to financial services. Globally, about 1.4 billion adults do not have bank accounts, impeding their ability to save, invest and manage their money effectively.

The question of where to start educating our young on financial matters reminds me of the line by Desmond Tutu: “There is only one way to eat an elephant, a bite at a time”.

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‘Full-time child’, reverse migration: How China’s youths are tackling record youth unemployment

It is important, however, to try different opportunities and be open to career advice dished out during the interview process, she said. “The key is to take the first step and engage with various job opportunities in society.”

Experts say there are gaps to bridge, for example between the jobs available and what youths aspire to and between youths’ salary expectations and what companies are willing to offer.

There are job openings waiting to be filled, such as technical and front-line positions in manufacturing, said Nina Wu, a human resources supervisor. These may not be the jobs, however, that “educated elite youth want”, noted Qian.

The typical salary for entry-level factory positions is around 2,000 to 4,000 yuan a month but could go up to 7,000 to 8,000 yuan in cities like Shenzhen, said Wu.

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