Time to grin and bear it in ‘Land of Smiles’

Thailand is often known as the ‘Land of Smiles’, but now people have fewer reasons to look happy amidst the global recession. In Bangkok the usually festive New Year mood has been overshadowed by the crisis.

The winter festive season is always a big celebration in Bangkok. The streets and buildings are decorated with coloured lights and giant Christmas trees shine in front of shopping malls and offices.

However, this year is slightly different. Signs of the global economic crisis are already present here in the land of smiles. Local newspapers report lay-offs in the car industry, banking and hospitality.

“This year is already worse than last year,” complained Thanakorn Neerasit, a taxi driver. “There are fewer passengers. The people are afraid to spend. My income is now lower by at least 20%”.

He owns his cab on a car loan. Unlike the majority of the men and women who drive Bangkok’s 90,000 taxi cabs, he was born and grew up here in the city. His family, a wife and two grown-up children share a room in his aunt’s small house. The crisis has already ended his hopes of a place of their own and he thinks it is going to be worse next year. He believes this crisis may be even stronger than that of 1998.

Elena Kucherenko, a sales specialist from St. Petersburg, has held various managerial positions in Bangkok-based international companies in the past seven years. A week ago she was made redundant from the post of sales and marketing manager of a major five-star hotel due to downsizing. She’s already got a new job. She’s the holder of an English teacher’s certificate, so she’s decided to work in a kindergarten for a year or two, until her sales skills are in demand again.

“People aren’t buying anything, especially when they consider a five-star hotel as a luxury. Those who travel are ready to pay for three and two star hotels, but five star ones – no,” she said.

Yuphawan, who owns a small hairdresser’s on the busy Sukhumvit Road with her sister, says she’s not going to let anyone go. They started the business fifteen years ago. She said that now they need, first of all, to help their business survive.

“If the crisis becomes worse, I won’t make anyone redundant. All my staff members have good skills. I’d hate to lose a single person. We will probably have to cut down overtime payments and bonuses for a while, and we will cut the profit to have enough for the salaries and rent.”