17 Nov 2005

Tsunami-hit Phuket Resorts Woo Gay Dollars Shunned by Singapore

Nov. 15 (Bloomberg) --
Phuket, which suffered a 70 percent drop in international tourism in the six months after the Indian Ocean tsunami, is targeting gay visitors as it seeks to recover from the devastation of December's killer waves.

Thailand's biggest resort island this month hosted Nation V, the fifth staging of a three-day, nine-party gay festival that was banned by former host Singapore. As many as 2,000 revelers filled the Intercontinental Hotel Group Pcl's Crowne Plaza Karon Beach Phuket and seven other resorts for the event.

Tourism officials hope marketing to the gay community will accelerate a recovery in the island, where just 60 percent of 35,000 available rooms are occupied as peak season begins. Phuket is trying to win back business after the tsunami killed at least 5,400 people and wrecked resorts across Thailand's southeastern coastal regions almost a year ago.

``We were 100 percent full,'' said Eric Smutny, marketing manager at the Crowne Plaza, which doubled as the venue for the event. ``The spending power of the gay sector is well known. There are a lot of high-end gay tourists, and I think Asia Pacific slowly but surely is discovering this.''

Nation V, the first official gay party hosted by Phuket, coincided with Bangkok's annual Pride Week, a seven-day celebration of homosexuality that culminated with a weekend march through the Thai capital yesterday.

Thailand's more liberal attitude to sexual relations is enabling the country to capture a market that its southern neighbor has shunned. The average participant at previous Nation parties spent S$2,700 ($1,586), according to Stuart Koe, chief executive of Fridae.com, the event's organizer.

Singapore Ban

Singapore hosted the first four Nation parties on Sentosa Island -- soon to be home to a new casino. After the first three passed relatively unnoticed, 8,000 revelers turned up for Nation IV last year and local television news broadcast footage of the party, touching nerves in a state where gay sex remains illegal. Police refused a license for Nation V, and Singapore's health ministry claimed the party was linked to a rise in HIV infections.

Phuket was more than willing to step in, said Suwalai Pinpradab, regional director of the tourism authority. Sulawai said she hopes Nation becomes an annual event on the island and anticipates bigger crowds if it gets the go-ahead next year, once deterrents such as the tsunami, Bali bombings and Pakistan earthquake no longer keep revelers away from Asia.

``It's a good start. I talked to some of the participants and they're happy,'' she said via telephone. ``They're very good spenders compared to ordinary tourists because they had nine parties while they were in Phuket -- day and night.''

Gay-Friendly

Singapore's fourth and final Nation generated an estimated S$10 million for the city state's economy, said Fridae.com's Koe. Attendees pay $220 each for unlimited-access tickets, on top of spending for accommodation, food, shopping and drinks.

That's a boost for Phuket, where credit card spending fell 26 percent this year as of Sept. 24, compared with growth of 27 percent in December, according to Visa International Inc., the world's largest card-payment network.

Tourism revenue in Phuket, Krabi and Phang Nga provinces slid by 43 billion baht ($1.05 billion) in the year through mid- October, according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand. Nationwide, foreign tourist spending growth has slowed to 17 percent from 30 percent before the tsunami.

``We chose Thailand because it has a very long history of being gay-friendly and that was very evident,'' said Koe, who runs Asia's biggest gay Web site. Singapore's ``un-gay friendly'' message, by contrast, will cost the city state, he said.

``The steps that have been taken to curb the gay community have been a step backward, and that's a message that gets sent out to foreign multinationals who might be considering coming to Singapore,'' Koe said.

`Pink Dollars'

Thailand's economic growth slowed to 3.9 percent in the first half of 2005, from 6.1 percent last year, partly because of a post-tsunami drop in tourism, which made up 6.4 percent of the nation's $164 billion economy in 2004.

About 5,400 people were confirmed killed -- half of them tourists -- and nearly 3,000 remain missing in Thailand after a magnitude-9 earthquake off Indonesia's Sumatra island unleashed waves that left about 220,000 people dead or missing in 12 countries around the Indian Ocean.

Andrew Tan, 26, a Singaporean graphic designer who attended three Nation parties in the city state, said he prefers Phuket.

He and his partner, though living in Singapore, used to spend about S$1,000 on a weekend hotel room package that included tickets to Nation. He estimates many foreigners who attended Nation in Singapore ``spent more than a straight couple coming for vacation for a whole week,'' attracting sponsors and advertisers keen to tap the market.

``If Singapore doesn't know how to appreciate and treasure these pink dollars, we should spend in a place that needs more tourists,'' said Tan. ``Anybody who can go to Nation can afford a trip to Phuket, and it's more exotic anyway.''


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Part of me wonders if the Singapore government is going to kick itself in the legs for making such a costly mistake.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

``If Singapore doesn't know how to appreciate and treasure these pink dollars........." "if the Singapore government is going to kick itself in the legs for making such a costly mistake.

S'pore only appreciates $$$$$ but not gay - this shows how close-minded we're!

Anonymous said...

Last year's Nation in Singapore drew 8,000 revellers. This year's in Phuket 2,000. Errr, is this considered a success?

Last year's injected S$10 million into the SG economy. That isn't very much at all. And, problematically, no one knows the medical costs, and the cost in shortened lives from the kind of "parties" that were held on the margins.

Incidentally, many of my high-spending gay friends actually are most of the time maxed out in the credit cards to sustain their high living. Pink dollar? More like pink credit. Still, to each his own.

Anonymous said...

If I have a choice those faggots won't be able to vote at all...

Anonymous said...

Sorry, sadists, unfortunately you're not the garment

Anonymous said...

"Last year's Nation in Singapore drew 8,000 revellers. This year's in Phuket 2,000. Errr, is this considered a success?" But it was not held in S'pore this year - it's already a sign of.......so no income for Singapore!

Anonymous said...

A few million dollars foregone is a really very small price to curb the health risks associated with such parties. It's sensible for Singapore not to have such parties.

Anonymous said...

If exotic Phuket drew just 2,000 people (ie, a 75% drop from the last party held in Singapore), I wonder what the numbers would be if the party were next year held, let's say, in Penang or Kuching... 500 maybe? Perhaps the organisers might like to try the throbbing metropolis of Shanghai. It'd be interesting to see what the municipal authorities think of the entire idea.

Anonymous said...

Aiyoh,don't be "sour grapes".

Anonymous said...

It wouldn't be a surprise if China could be more open than us!

pleinelune said...

[I hate it when several anonymous people post. I can't tell if the same "anonymous coward" is arguing with himself or there are 9 different people here. Can't they atleast leave an unique unlinked pseudonym?]

Anonymous no.2, what exactly do you mean by healthcost? If you are insinuating that those gay people spread AIDS, congrats, you are ready to take Balaji's place. But has the gahmen done much about this? No. Last year, the police stopped AFA from giving out condoms at the party. So who is the one helping to spread AIDS here?

I am detecting a lot of sweeping statements here: for one, you assume that they are maxing out their credit cards, and having a "high", ie expensive lifestyle. Ask yourself whether this is true, and whether you might actually be jealous of those people.

Anonymous said...

Yah true. I oso heard. Because quite a lot of them got debts they often need to find sugar didi, so I'm told la. Dunno if true. But that's what I heard. Quite a few at a downtown gym. They visit the gym 2 or 3 X a day and then meet sugar didi at nite. Up to you to believe or not lor.

Anonymous said...

Actually, this issue of gays living the high life and many chalking up debts is quite well known, and has been debated at length in a number of forums, like the ones on fridae.com. Whether this is purely a local (ie, Singapore) phenomenon or more universal in nature is debatable. Sometimes so pai seh, must ask friends for loans. The worst time is just before Chinese New Year. They need $$$$ to buy an entire new wardrobe.

Gilbert Koh said...

2,000 is pretty good if most of them are Singaporeans. After all, they also have to pay for hotel and airfare, which means sizeable profits for Phuket hotels as well as Thai Airways etc.

In Singapore, Nation 03 is just one party for gay Singaporeans. A few hours and it's over. But if Singaporeans go to Phuket for the party, they're likely to stay more than one day, and would be spending their tourist dollars there.

Think Singaporean said...

Yes, that's right. Have a more open and positive attitude. Since our gahmen is unable to accept them, then they could go elsewhere to seek their own happiness. At the same time, eversince tsunami, our neighbouring countries' economies have been dull. In this way, it will help to boost their economies. "When we help others, we are, in fact, helping ourselves." And hopefully will the economies of Asian countries be quickly enhanced.

Anonymous said...

Hi gilbert, interesting point you make. I'd be curious to know the composition of the 2,000 participants.

Anonymous said...

I for one am glad that SG gays can still party, even if abroad. Good for them.

strom said...

[I hate it when several anonymous people post. I can't tell if the same "anonymous coward" is arguing with himself or there are 9 different people here. Can't they atleast leave an unique unlinked pseudonym?]

I second that! The moderators should assign numbers if we have to reply to Anonyomus no. XI.

Anonymous said...

I heard that some left the party very early as they saw ghosts rising in the waters just off the beaches. Yikes! Gays are easily scared? Hmmmmm, I wonder...

Anonymous said...

Are you sure? Don't come up with such story?

good sense said...

I'm not surprised at this story, frankly. In fact that was one reason why so few people wanted to go to Phuket. We Asians are generally very superstititious, we have a strong consciousness for the supernatural. Already for months since the tsunami there were many reports of ghostly sightings at Phuket by the locals themselves. It's not surprising that when people have died violently their souls are not at peace and remain trapped in the place where they perished. It is very sad, but there are some things which can never be explained. Anyway, on a personal note, I ask myself: how can anyone party at ease at a place where thousands died a horrible death. That's sick man! And just the thought of it gives me goose bumps.

Anonymous said...

This kind of "ghostly" feeling will soon be gone as people still have to get on with their lives. Initially Bishan was a cemetery and people were not very keen to move in to stay at those newly built flats. But now people are still living happily at that place.

clyde said...

What is this... the convention for anonymous people??? Same goes for the thread (date set for Nguyen's hanging) above!

good sense said...

anon 1.57pm, the comparison with Bishan may not be quite apt for this reason: people were buried at the cemetry called Kampong San Teng (now known as Bishan) very many years ago. Burials stopped there at least 20 years before exhumation and the building of Bishan new town. The souls therefore were long at peace. The case with Phuket is different simply because people died suddenly and violently there. It does not take much imagination to realise that the souls remain restless, trapped and in limbo. In some religions, in order to placate the spirits and help them enter the other world fully, what is known as a "cleansing" ceremony takes place. I gather these ceremonies did occur in Phuket, but in order for them to have total effect they need to take place at the exact spot where people perished. It is not surprising that people say they have seen ghosts rising from the waters off the beaches... So this isn't an issue of a "ghostly feeling", it is an issue of people actually seeing and experiencing spirits. I agree with you that life for people must go on. But others may say that it may have been a bit too soon to have 3-day party when it isn't even one year after a very tragic event. The emotions of victims' families are still very raw. I wonder how some would have felt. Just look at the issue of the Twin Towers in New York. So much controversy about what should be built on the site. Victims' families are adamant that a substantial portion of the site should be given over to a memorial square commemorating lives lost instead of commercial development. The controversy rages on. Ultimately, the issue is about good sense, good taste, and sensitivity to those who lost loved ones. It is a personal choice.