Tourism News

Tourism News Phuketwan Tourism News
facebook recommendations


Sign up now for our News Alert emails and the latest breaking news plus new features.

Click to subscribe

Existing subscribers can unsubscribe here


Phuket investigator Stacey Dooley, from a previous reality show

Phuket Resort Maids Profiled in BBC Doco: Review

Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Thailand: Tourism and the Truth - Stacey Dooley Investigates. (BBC3)
AS ANYONE arriving to rain-soaked Phuket or Samui this week will have discovered, the reality of a tourist destination is often starkly different than what's portrayed in the brochures and travel websites. Diving under the surface of the glossy sheen is what British investigative reporter Stacey Dooley tries to do in the one-hour documentary, 'Thailand: Tourism and the Truth - Stacey Dooley Investigates', which aired on BBC3 yesterday.

While the 2009 documentary series 'Big Trouble in Thailand' on Bravo Channel UK exposed the mishaps and dangers encountered by tourists to Thailand, this film gets to grips with the every-day pressures and strains faced by those working and living in a thriving Thai tourist resort.

The opener asks, "Are our two weeks of luxury abroad making life hell for the locals?" and Ms Dooley first explores this question with a visit to the Banthai Beach Resort in the Phuket west coast town of Patong, first shown with images of its inviting swimming pools, immaculate rooms and smiling staff, with Ms Dooley expressing amazement that all this could be had for as little as 30 quid a night.

After a day as a tourist with a frolic in the pool and drinks at the swim-up bar, Ms Dooley goes to work as a chambermaid, learning that she is expected to clean 14 rooms a day, taking no longer than 30 minutes per room. She gets a failing grade from the manager after a sweaty hour-plus spent scrubbing one room.

She then catches a ride on the Banthai staff bus to the worker dormitories, clean yet rather cramped and sparsely-furnished quarters where three maids share a small room. All of them, she learns, are mothers whose children live in another province. One maid, Khun Kalerb, has not seen her children in two years, and Ms Dooley stares at her with Oprah-style empathy as the maid stoically describes the stark choice between seeing her children or sending her earnings to her family.

Dooley later goes to see the grim rental room of a Banthai bartender located in a back-street Patong slum, where apparently some 100 hotel workers live. Rats and roaches make Ms Dooley jittery as the bartender explains that she prefers the freedom of life here compared to the staff dorm.

Among those familiar with the Phuket hotel industry, Banthai is known to be a fair yet exacting employer, expecting high standards from its staff yet rewarding them with free food, accommodation and transport, plus annual parties where big gifts including motorbikes are handed out. Dooley takes a balanced look at the situation, speaking with Banthai's senior managers who say they do face a lot of pressure to maintain high standards for increasingly narrow margins, but that that their wages are fair, and that it's up to the staff to manage their money.

When she probes about the possibility of allowing staff to have their family stay with them in the dorm, she is told there is no space, yet there's a vague, face-saving response that this could be a possibility in the future.

The doco makes it plain, however, that the price pressures combined with the high cost of living in Phuket unavoidably gives its hotel workers short shrift. If the Banthai workers are living like this, one shudders to think how those toiling at less reputable places are faring. Ms Dooley's proposed short-term remedy is to urge those staying here to leave good tips.

She then heads down to Rawai Beach and meets the Moken, better known as sea gypsies, whose small slice of land is under threat of being taken away for hotel development. The clash of modern property laws and ancient traditions couldn't be more clear. The Moken tell her how they were urged to put their fingerprints on papers that they couldn't read, with the promise of rice in return. Only later did they learn that they had signed away their rights to the land they had lived on for generations.

After stumbling through their crowded, concrete and corrugated tin dwellings and seeing old photos of their spacious thatch huts spread across the beach, she valiantly takes up their cause and helps them secure a meeting with the Prime Minister. The PM does not see them but sends an advisor to meet with Ms Dooley and the Moken village head, Khun Sanit.

One piece of evidence they will submit as proof of the Moken's land rights is a photo of HM the King visiting their village decades ago. After pressing the advisor to look into the case, Ms Dooley vows to keep calling back to check on its progress. Afterwards, she bids a tearful farewell to Khun Sanit.

Ms Dooley also checks out the famed Full Moon Party on Koh Phang-ngan, where images of young raving Europeans are juxtaposed with the fridge-cooled coffins where bodies are kept until they can be evacuated from the island (some 10 tourists a year die at the Full Moon parties, about 7-8 of them British, says a local rescue volunteer), and questions are asked about how the small local population can cope with the large monthly influx of tourists.

Throughout the film, the young Ms Dooley maintains a doe-eyed innocence, wonder and friendliness that is disarming to all who encounter her, and her emotional reactions to what she sees and hears add to the sense of heartbreak. Some will say that her approach is too one-sided - the bargain-hunting, insensitive tourists vs the unwitting, pure and simple hard-working locals - but overall a balanced view is presented and the documentary refreshingly avoids the usual shock-value images of the gyrating chrome-pole dancers and the leering, washed-up Western men.

It will be interesting to see how Phuket's tourism players react to the film, whether it will be viewed as a sober yet necessary look inside the industry or written off as yet another attempt by uninformed outsiders to discredit Thailand. There's nothing in this documentary that will necessarily scare off tourists - indeed, the people, the beaches and the lifestyle in Phuket are generally portrayed as enchantingly as any tourist travel show - but it will certainly make potential visitors more aware of the true value - and cost - of their holiday in paradise. Seems like a win-win for all.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


A program entirely devoted to the naive surprise (and poor elocution) of some idealist presenter when confronted with living conditions for unskilled workers in the developing world. Shock Horror, poor people are.. well.. poor..

If that can be sprinkled with some vague blame to western tourism (the industry that actually employs the poor workers and gives them an income) all the better for TV.

It would be far more intellectually honest to spend some time considering 'why' things are the way they are, what aspects of clean governance, investment in education, and how prosperity can really be brought to the genuine poor in the world.

It seems the days when the BBC made decent insightful programming are in the rear view mirror and "fank you, fank you.. your so nice innit" is no longer just ITV.

Posted by LivinLOS on March 30, 2011 12:30


..but she's so annoying!!
well done to the researchers (not listed in the show's credits) for their investigation!!

Posted by another steve on March 30, 2011 12:38


The point that she missed, and would be apparent to anyone acquainted with Thailand is that many of the Thais the life in relative poverty is a *choice*. She clearly states that on 6200 Thb a month, one girl is supporting 5 people. If you double that girls money, she would live in exactly the same way and send the extra back to the family. It is what the Thais do - self sacrifice for the sake of the family.

That doesn't alter the fact that there is grinding poverty in Thailand but the situation presented is far removed from reality on the ground, and the solution suggested would simply never work.

As for the Chao-Lay (the Sea Gypsies), I am afraid that in a caste oriented society like Thailand, nothing will change. Absolutely nothing.

Posted by Thai Expat on March 30, 2011 18:21


Where did she get the figure of 30 pounds per night from? Looking at the banthai website its a lot more expensive than that even in low season.

What an irritating presenter, too.

Posted by sateeb on March 30, 2011 19:04


She is so annoying.

Posted by Francis on March 31, 2011 02:41


The limitations of naive, uneducated sound-bite journalism, sadly being reinforced by a journalist on this site. Totally unbalanced reporting. Who interviewed the owners for their point of view on their return on investment in a jurisdiction that does little to protect the interests of investors. A shame to see employers who in most cases are raising the standard of living and quality of life of their staff being presented in this fashion. BBC plumbing new depths...

Posted by Michael on March 31, 2011 12:51


It was on the Beeb, but was it actually a Beeb production? Anyway, dreadful presenter in dreadfully unbalanced program ticked off her wishlist of "issues". Tawdriness of the prog, presenter and production values underlined heavily by the money shot of her wiping away a token tear.

Posted by Tanya Millibank on March 31, 2011 17:10


I think she also did a really bad one on Cambodia about prostitution and during a segment talking about underage sex being available at certain bars there camera showed the signage of a bar that most certainly is not a hostess bar or involved in the sex trade at all.

It's actually an expat bar whose main attraction are it's chilli burgers and music collection.

There was also a lot of shots of white men walking in the tourist areas while the woman basically explained they were probably kiddy fiddlers.

Posted by Rob on March 31, 2011 19:35


Hi everyone. The BBC video cannot be seen now in Thailand on its website. Any suggestions?

Posted by cekipa on March 31, 2011 23:05


This is the media reporting in 2011, new reporters, new ideas, new publicity....NO REAL KNOWLEDGE...BUT.still allowed to make tv programs for BBC TV..where are the MODERATORS? ...This is called freedom of the press..WE CAN NOT DO ANYTHING..suggest you contact the BBC..if you want an answer.

Posted by johndev on April 1, 2011 07:38


This girl previously appeared in a show called Blood, Sweat and T/shirts, where a group of soft, privileged young Brits lived and worked in the fields and factories of third world countries to learn where their food and fashions were produced. Lightweight stuff, and it appears she has invented a career for herself doing similar "exposes".

Posted by tt on April 1, 2011 11:43


I can't believe what I'm reading in these comments. People whining for the plight of the rich investors and management, who charge Hawaii rates for rooms but pay 6200 baht per month to maids?! Oh, puh-leeez.

And the right-wing rich silly people who think 6200 baht a month is a living wage... TRY it. People are people -- stop imagining that starving wages are adequate "for Thais", "for poor people", etc.

You wouldn't tolerate that low standard of living for your family. Don't imagine people are different just because their skin or passport is a different color to yours.

Posted by Tired of The Act on April 1, 2011 21:29


Wow. A totally credible subject, one which should be exposed and investigated, entirely spoiled by a middle class imbecile. Congratulations, you're being paid to back-pack around asia and feign interest in a new subject each week.

The binge drinking is a disgusting way of life that certainly shouldn't be spread, but the locals are clearly making money, otherwise they wouldn't sell alcohol. It's a bit of a contradiction to state that the fishermen want their land whilst others locals encourage the drinking. I think the tourists are obviously the problem.

But to claim that the paramedics "must find it so hard to deal with the deaths" is silly at best. as if it's not the same everywhere in the world! Another highly worthy subject discredited by a sacramonious idiot.

Posted by Trev on April 4, 2011 10:31


"Tired of The Act", many/most of the comments posted are more about the style of the program and the poor journalism, not the subject matter.

Read the comments before commenting.

Posted by Tanya Millibank on April 6, 2011 15:39


6,200 baht is a fair salary in Thailand. A decent-sized fan room can be had for 1,500 baht a month, so that's less than a quarter of your salary going on accommodation. A good Thai meal can be had for 35-50 baht in many places, even in Phuket. I know many Thai people who rent these fan rooms for 1,500 baht/month, and they share them with 1 or 2 other people, so their accommodation is basically as low as 500 baht a month. They have plenty of discretionary income, since they will very rarely eat a meal costing more than 100 baht. From a salary of 6,200 a month, it's easy for them to send back 3,000 of it to their family elsewhere in Thailand. The waitresses in the expensive MK restaurants only get 5,800 a month; I know because I formerly dated one. They are happy to earn that; girls who work in bars oriented towards foreigners are paid 3,000-3,500 a month if they don't "go" with customers, and many of them don't. You get by by living frugally.

Posted by Rich on April 22, 2011 17:41

Wednesday July 24, 2024
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa


Facebook Twitter