And why it works for the people in Phuket.
For those who have been to Phuket, and in particular, the Patong beach area, you will understand what touting means.
The excessive nature of touting has always been seen as a form of negative externality. That means negative consequence (i.e. you suffer poorer experience) due to commercial activities (i.e. touting of products to tourists) despite you being a 3rd party (i.e. non-interested party) to all this.
A Way To Over-Commercialise Everything
Tropical fruits, hot local food, cool drinks, fake Ray Ban or even the spreading of aloe vera on one’s back, every item which is related to a beach experience can be peddled and sold by touters. If it rains, I am sure they will be selling ponchos for 200 baht apiece.
Even the beach space itself, supposedly a public good, can be commercialised.
Touts operating at the beach are ready to set up umbrellas and sunbeds at the beach for a fee of 100 baht (about SGD$5). This is extremely entrepreneurial, because being able to charge a person for something that is free anyway is always an amzing business to be in.
Secondly, it is hard to imagine worn out sunbeds and umbrellas being that expensive to buy and maintain. And lastly, the huge volume of carefree spending tourists heading to Patong beach on a daily basis makes this a lucrative business to be in.
The touting does not end there. Once you have settled down into your sunbed, numerous touters will approach you consistently. If you need a cold drink, someone will be there in 5 minutes without you needing to frantically wave your hands to catch their attention. In fact, the prompt services may even be better than some of the F&B outlets in Singapore.
How Touting Help The Phuket Economy
In most places, cities or countries, touting spoils the image of the location to visitors. That is why in Singapore, touting is illegal.
In Phuket, it is a way of life and the basis of how the tourism industry operates. Taxi touts stake their claim everywhere. Clubs and pubs hire touters to bring in customers to patronise their outlets.
The most important part about touting however is that it creates jobs for the locals.
No Infrastructure needed.
Another reason why touting works well in places such as Phuket is because of the perfect complement the place have in being able to attract a lot of tourists while still maintaing sub-par infrastructures.
Take for example, transportation. In Phuket, there isn’t any form of public transport available. Visitors have to either arrange for their own private transport or to rely on the local touts to get them overpriced taxis from one point to another.
This lack of infrastructure rewards touters and allow them to develop a “business model” that helps provide for this gap in the market, while simultaneously giving jobs to the locals.
Should Phuket Be Eliminating Touting?
Most of us will say yes. The absence of touting will significantly enhance our holiday experience in phuket without constantly feeling like we have to reject a poor local trying to earn his or her keep.
However, we need to remember that touting is also a way of life, and more importantly, a means for the locals to survive. The alternative to touting will be…wait, there is no alternative. There is simply not enough jobs out there.
To eliminate touting requires the government to take proactive steps. Firstly, the government has to invest in infrastructure (or convince private investors to do so on their behalf) so that it can offer alternate products and services to what the touters are currently doing. Comfortable and safe public transport is one good example.
They will then need to convince the touters to switch over their occupation and to take on these tourism related jobs instead. Relevant training will need to be provided and the remuneration must be attractive enough to provide incentive for the locals to work in these jobs.
However, all these steps are not easy to take and hence, it is safe for me to assume that touting is here to stay in Phuket at least for the foreseeable future.
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