Can You Entertain Me? Well, Can You?
It has been a few weeks and I still can't figure out what went wrong with Clint Eastwood and the empty chair rant. From the much-loved spaghetti westerns with those haunting Sergio Leone soundtracks, to Dirty Harry and now this. Oh Clint, something has gone terribly wrong.
Perhaps the wires got crossed on his electric razor and a high voltage surge turned him into a babbling idiot. Our Hollywood hero is now firmly on geezer alert. But let's not get sidetracked. We have things to accomplish here, and while death remains at our doorstep, it's important to remember that this is no dress rehearsal.
Sorry about the momentary move over to a dark shadows moment, it's Monday and the weather just turned nasty.
On a brighter note I've recently returned from a trip up country to Cha Am (or shall we say Greater Hua Hin?) Out for an adventure that took me to another roadside attraction: the Santorini Park combo tourism attraction and less than urbane shopping experience.
Imagine a Greek-style themed outdoor mall, complete with bold and brash shops, bright colors and even an amusement park. Yes I was skeptical, but after spending some time on walkabout I was converted, as tour-buses, mini-vans and even Isuzu pickups unloaded the wild and the willing. Where else can you charge admission to get into a shopping center where you will even spend more? Genius, pure and simple. Thailand, like much if not all of Asia, has turned back the clock to the 1950's and 60's of the US and Europe. A rising middle class is without a doubt set to define the remainder of this generation.
Planes, cars and smart phones are just the tip of the iceberg for the seven wishes. Travel and shopping are of course thrown into the mix, with perhaps some time at the ever-modern food court. Why eat at home when you can eat out? Or, hey, maybe buy an affordable condo from the smiling promo girl as part of your consumer extravaganza? This is by no means a condemnation of consumerism. I like going to the mall and remain unapologetic about it. What this does signal more importantly, on the rapid post Global Financial Crisis, is a departure from legacy travel markets and the spending power in the 'good ole days'.
Hotel guests and consumers are more likely than not Asian and in many cases from domestic locations. They want a frenzy of activity, not a week spent on a beach. The signs are everywhere you turn.
In Pattaya, the 'Art in Paradise' interactive painting venue packs legions of smart-phone-picture-taking social media junkies. And near to Santorini is the Swiss Sheep Farm which again panders to Asia's love of themed parks. I'm still wondering about the windmill as this would appear to be an implant from the Netherlands – but this is only a slight detail.
Over the past month I've been to Tuscany, um, well, not the real one but up to Khao Yai and even passed rolling vineyards at Silverlake Winery near Pattaya. One of my more exciting ventures was to an urban beach club , flow boarding at the Flow House in Bangkok – "Surf's up" is not something you often hear when getting off the Skytrain – and later I was off for a riverside walk at Asiatique which on a Wednesday night was humming like a singing Zebra.
Further abroad in Malaysia, 'Legoland' is now open, just over the border from Singapore. Indonesia has two Trans Studio theme parks and there appears to be no end to the feeding frenzy.
Here in Phuket what's apparent to even me is that tourism is no longer just about the beach and it's high time the local industry started developing a product an evolving consumer-base wants and desires. Ignore the call to action and people will likely go elsewhere – despite what we might consider to be the slightly off center demands of a new middle class.
It's hard to say if it is a move upward, or down to the middle but that remains exactly where the market is these days.
So yes, please entertain us.