The Changing World
Here are some predictions about how life in Thailand will change radically in the next 20 years. On transport, new transit systems and rail routes – including the one to connect U-tapao with Bangkok airports – will usher in ever expanding urbanization with greater commuter convenience. Pattaya is likely to be part of a huge Bangkok metropolis called a “Smart” city. Expect to see big data technology creating new sharing-economy businesses such as Ofa Bike, Panda Delivery, Uber, Grab Taxi and You Drink I Drive. It goes without saying that smartphone applications will play an ever-increasing part in people’s lives. QR code payments and e-tickets will replace cash for all forms of travel. Traffic congestion is likely to be eased as the cost of parking in city centres skyrockets and private vehicles are banned from downtown areas. Driverless traffic will be the norm by 2050.
There is already a consumer switch to digital platforms which indicates a move away from Cash is King. PromptPay, the Thai government-inspired money transfer and payment scheme, was launched in 2017. Banks have largely scrapped digital transaction fees whilst the number of merchants accepting QR code payments is jumping annually as are all mobile banking transactions. Meanwhile, Thailand’s central bank is joining with its counterparts in ASEAN to develop cross-border digital banking whilst improving security measures. Bangkok Bank, for example, offers cross-border payments via standardized QR code in Japan and aims to extend digital payment services across ASEAN in the next phase.
Thailand is Ageing
Within two years Thailand will become an “aged society” in which one person in five will be 60-plus years old. Within 20 years, the elderly will make up 30 percent of the total population. New technology will enable family members to monitor their elderly relatives in real time, allowing them to reach out to medical staff in case of an emergency. Universities are offering “elderly classroom” programmes to boost the health of retirees by teaching the importance of proper nutrition, physical therapy, exercise and dental care. New senior-housing projects in major cities have already opened for both Thais and foreigners. Loneliness in old age may be partly compensated by robots who will be able to offer a range of skills, such as performing household chores and offering mechanical friendship. Indeed, robots are no longer just toys for children or imaginative machinery in movies. They have become key contributors to everyday social and work life.
Obsession with Social Media
Our obsession with social media and mobile application technology is fast creating a socially isolated society. Facebook, Instagram and the rest have begun to replace actual conversations between people. Applications such as food delivery services have become tools which users welcome to help address the issues of being stuck in traffic during meal times. More generally, social media often consumes people to the extreme point where their sharing, posting, liking, commenting and selfie-ing become obsessional. We increasingly worry how to perfectly filter photos so that we appear attractive to friends, acquaintances and strangers. Subconsciously, it may all be about keeping our “following” count lower than our “followers”. The overall result can easily be that users keep coming back to social media even though it doesn’t necessarily make us feel better and, indeed, can make us feel depressed. Some psychologists see the social media downside as one of the biggest social problems of the 21st century. The only answer can be to find outside activities to indulge and to meet people.
The Farang Future
How will Thailand’s tourists and expats be affected by the mammoth changes under way? The expat population here is too an ageing one. For them, the country is likely to become more expensive as traditional currencies – such as the pound, the euro and the dollar – depreciate against the baht and other Asian currencies. China’s regional influence will grow massively as she invests in infrastructure projects and technology throughout the region via huge loans which, of course, will have to be repaid. As the Thai workforce declines because of the decline of the birthrate over the past 20 years, workers from neighbouring countries will be recruited for the construction industry and for the services sector, especially food and hospital support services. While cities such as Pattaya will remain cosmopolitan, the emphasis will be on Asian tourism rather than the traditional sectors from Europe, America and Australia. Pattaya itself will continue to evolve into a high-class destination with the emphasis on business affairs, family entertainment, good class hotels, posh restaurants and exotic malls to equal any in Bangkok or other Asian cities. Pattaya is changing radically and those who still think it is essentially a venue for bachelors seeking a good time can’t see the wood for the trees.