Chim Shop Chai: bane or boon?
In an effort to boost consumption and tourism in the country, the government is pouring 316 billion baht into its Chim Shop Chai (Eat, Shop, Spend) scheme, through which 10 million Thai citizens are entitled to 1,000 baht and a 15% rebate.
Through the Pao Tang mobile app, people can shop at more than 150,000 participating restaurants, hotels, travel agencies, shops and convenience stores. The inclusion of leading department stores like Central, The Mall, Siam Paragon, Tesco Lotus and Makro are an especially powerful magnet for Thai shoppers.
The first phase of the campaign runs until Nov 15. Based on a first-come, first-served basis, online registration is limited to 1 million people a day. Registrants download the e-payment app to receive the funds and a 15% rebate of up to 30,000 baht.
It sounds easy, but the scheme has already been subject to criticism from users across the country. A friend of mine told me it took her three nights to sign up. She started her mission at 1am and gave up after the queue management system kept her waiting for more than 20 minutes. She went back and tried again after learning some tips on social media.
I asked her whether it is worth losing out on sleep for the sake of 1,000 baht. She said it was because there was something she wanted to buy at CentralPlaza Bangna. My friend lives in Samut Prakan and has to spend about 30 minutes driving from her home to the shopping malls in Bangkok. This was something of a bounty for her.
Other friends I spoke to, who were planning trips to Pattaya and Chiang Mai, also recognised the benefits. Using three smartphones, they were able to register all of their family members. They reckoned it would help them save 2,000-4,000 baht on accommodation, food and recreational activities.
However, many have complained about the registration process. Early this month, the National Institute of Development Administration (Nida) conducted a survey on public reaction to the scheme. They discovered that 58.37% out of the 1,261 people they surveyed could not sign up to get the funds because registration was too complicated and their mobile phones couldn't run the app. Just 25.61% did manage to register, while 16.02% were in the process of registering.
Of those who had registered or were in the process of registering, 41.52% said they intended to spend the 1,000 baht at department stores; 16.57% at participating shops; 16.57% on food and drink; 2.29% on homestays and 2.10% at shops run by community enterprises.
Further issues with the scheme stem from the condition requiring participants to spend the cash handouts within 14 days. Department stores and supermarkets have been experiencing unusually large crowds of shoppers on weekends, resulting in the payment system breaking down.
Recent viral images showed loaded trolleys abandoned in front of a cashier counter at Tesco Lotus Laksi. Krungthai Bank (KTB), which is responsible for running the Pao Tang mobile app, explained that each large store chain participating in the scheme was only allowed to set up 20 cashier stands in each province.
In Bangkok, there are 20 participating branches of Tesco Lotus. That means there is only one cashier stand available at each store. This has resulted in extremely long queues, forcing many customers to give up and abandon their trolleys.
The government hopes that the scheme stimulates economic growth to at least 3% this year. Reports so far suggest that half the money has been spent on goods, meals and domestic tourism. Between Sep 27 and 29, some 294 million baht was spent, of which 148 million went to One Tambon, One Product shops and Thong Fah Pracha Rat shops.
To offset the downturn in foreign tourism, especially from China, the government plans to extend this cash handout campaign to the end of the year. The second phase will include about 500,000 community stores to help circulate more money in local economies.
There is added good news for those planning a vacation at the end of the year. The government is gearing up for the high season with the launch of the Visit Thailand With 100 Baht and Shocking Price Weekday Travel campaigns to promote domestic tourism in November and December.
With a combined budget of 116 million baht, the two new packages will be available at tourismthailand.org and offer around 40,000 options on air tickets, accommodation, spa treatments and meals -- each priced at 100 baht. Each customer is limited to one purchase.
Some people might criticise the Chim Shop Chai scheme as a waste of government money. But on the other hand, the 1,000 baht handout is like a gift voucher to many families, helping them save on the cost of living during the economic slowdown. Of course, a lot depends on whether or not you can get past the registration hiccups.
Pattarawadee Saengmanee is a feature writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.