From haircuts to face masks, Thai tourism workers turn to new skills

A boy and his father receive free food at a pantry run by a community charity in Bangkok amid growing hardship in the capital. (Reuters)
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Updated 13 May 2020

From haircuts to face masks, Thai tourism workers turn to new skills

  • Coronavirus travel restrictions decimate key industry, forcing thousands to search out other sources of income

BANGKOK: As Thailand’s tourist economy suffers a near-total shutdown from travel restrictions due to the global coronavirus pandemic, employees in the industry have been forced to improvise to make ends meet.

Air purser Kosit Rattanasopon, 37, has traded in his cabin crew uniform for a delivery driver’s jacket, stylishly ferrying food deliveries around the capital Bangkok on his Ducati motorbike since the Thai airline he works for grounded all flights.

Kosit makes about 1,000 baht ($31.13) per day, just enough to support his father and sister, who also cook boxed meals to sell online.

“I know things will not be the same again for at least another year, so I will have to keep doing this,” he said.

Tourism accounted for 11 percent of Thailand’s gross domestic product last year, and border closures and travel restrictions to prevent its spread are expected to decimate the industry for months to come.

Those who have new jobs are among the fortunate. About 4 million Thais work in the tourism sector, and most face a year or more of lost income until a vaccine or new coronavirus treatment allows travel to return to previous levels.

Another grounded airline worker, stewardess Thawanan Thawornphatworakul, has turned her living room into a hair salon. She averages two to three clients per day and charges 150 baht per cut. Thawanan, 36, said her income is nowhere near her airline salary, but it helps.

“The income here helps with some expenses and pays the bills,” she said.

Scuba diving instructor Sermsak Posayajinda, 47, has also found a new income source, making jars of chili paste from his mother’s recipes and selling them online.

“At first it was only a hobby during COVID-19 period, but the results have been very good, so this will become a business for us in the long term,” Sermsak said.

The closure of hotels and exhibition centers also disrupted the business of Asaree Jarugosol, 36, who rents out chairs and builds stages for hotels and caterers around Bangkok.

Asaree decided to retain all her staff by transforming her warehouse into a factory that makes 2,500 reusable face masks per day, first for local hospitals and now for exporting overseas as worldwide demand surges.

“At first we only have one sewing machine operated by one staff, but now we have about 40 people working a proper production line,” she said.

“We will continue to produce face masks even when our old business returns.”


Taps and reservoirs run dry as Moroccan drought hits farmers

Updated 22 October 2020

Taps and reservoirs run dry as Moroccan drought hits farmers

  • The problems caused by increasingly erratic rainfall and the depletion of groundwater are growing every year in Morocco

RABAT: Two years of drought have drained reservoirs in southern Morocco, threatening crops the region relies on and leading to nightly cuts in tap water for an area that is home to a million people.

In a country that relies on farming for two jobs in five and 14 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP), the problems caused by increasingly erratic rainfall and the depletion of groundwater are growing every year.

In the rich citrus plantations of El-Guerdan, stretching eastward from the southern city of Agadir, more than half of farmers rely on two dams in the mountains of Aoulouz, 126 km away, to irrigate their trees.

However, that water has been diverted to the tourist hub of Agadir, where mains water has been cut to residential areas every night since Oct. 3 to ensure taps in households did not run entirely dry.

“The priority should go to drinking water,” Agriculture Minister Aziz Akhannouch said in parliament last week.

In El-Guerdan, Youssef Jebha’s crop of clementine oranges has been compromised by reduced water supply, he said, which affects both the quality of fruit and the size of the harvest.

“The available ground water is barely enough to keep the trees alive,” said Jebha, who is head of a regional farmers’ association.

“Saving Agadir should not be at the expense of El-Guerdan farmers,” he added, speaking by phone.

‘We hope for rain’

El-Guerdan is not alone in facing drought. Morocco’s harvest of cereals this year was less than half that of 2019, meaning hundreds of millions of dollars of extra import costs.

Despite lower production, Moroccan exports of fresh produce have risen this year by 8 percent. 

Critics of the government’s agricultural policy say such sales are tantamount to exporting water itself, given the crops use up so many resources.

A report by Morocco’s social and environmental council, an official advisory body, warned that four-fifths of the country’s water resources could vanish over the next 25 years.

It also warned of the risks to social peace due to water scarcity. In 2017, 23 people were arrested after protests over water shortages in the southeastern city of Zagora.

In January the government said it would spend $12 billion on boosting water supply over the next seven years by building new dams and desalination plants.

One $480 million plant, with a daily capacity of 400,000 cubic meters, is expected to start pumping in March, with the water divided between residential areas and farms.

Until then, “We hope for rain,” the agriculture minister said in parliament.

In El-Guerdan, the farmers are digging for water. A new well costs $20,000-30,000. However, “there is no guarantee water can be found due to the depletion of ground reserves,” said Ahmed Bounaama, another farmer.