AFP: Thai group launches bid to stop Singapore from snatching its pink dollars

Friday, July 30, 2004

Thai group launches bid to stop Singapore from snatching its pink dollars

Bangkok– Thailand's gay community has launched a political lobby group to try and stop the kingdom's title as Asia's pink tourism capital being snatched by Singapore. Thailand boasts Asia's largest annual Mardi-Gras festival, as well as the most vibrant and open gay club scene and annual gay beauty pageant.

However, wedged between conservative Malaysia and Indonesia, Singapore has been forging a reputation as the new Asian hot spot for gay holiday-makers. The island state has experienced a boom in gay clubs following a change in attitude towards the pink dollar in the late 1990s.

Ms Munthana Adisayathepkul, the head of Thailand's leading lesbian group and a key member of the Homosexual Political Group of Thailand (HPGT), said Singapore had become a dangerous competitor to Thailand. "Singapore is trying to make itself the centre of gays and lesbians in Asia … and we are trying to get the government to support us fight this shift," she said.
Prominent Thai gay activist, Mr Natee Teerarojjanapongs – the first openly gay Thai to run for a senate seat – said government support would be crucial if Thailand is to remain as Asia's key holiday destination for homosexuals.

"If we want to be a gay paradise, the government has to support gay groups as it will draw a lot of tourists and income to the country," he said. Mr Natee also said it is the kingdom's fundamental atmosphere of tolerance, not just mega-events, which still sets it apart from other Asian destinations. "Even though they (Singapore) have strong laws they want to trade on the success that comes with staging a famous gay parade," he said.

The bars and cafes in Bangkok's bustling and neon-lit gay entertainment area are packed with tourists enjoying the city's unbridled gay night life, but operators say they are far from complacent."It is possible that Singapore will be the next gay capital as it is more open to gays," said Mr Panuwat Jaykong, the manager of Telephone, one of Bangkok's best known bars.
"The number of Singaporean and Hong Kong visitors has fallen by 20 to 30 per cent over the past few months after the Thai government said it did not support gays' activities," he said.

A spokesman for Asia's largest and oldest gay holiday firm, Utopia Tours, also said it was the lack of government support rather than the allure of Singapore that is the main threat to the industry. But the head of Bangkok's gay festival, Mr Pakorn Pimton, rejected the need for official support. "They do not have to support us – just don't ban us," he said. "Singapore as Asia's gay capital? Forget it. Their parade and other activities are still far behind Thailand," he said.