Tourists flock to floating football pitch in Thailand
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It’s been a hard year for Thailand’s tourism industry: after months of political turmoil ended with Thailand’s army seizing power in May, tourism has fallen almost 9% compared with this time last year. On Panyee Island, however, an innovative floating football pitch has helped to keep tourist levels afloat in 2014.
The 16x25 metre pitch - which is accessible from the island’s ferry pier - was built in 2010. It is not the first of its kind, however. The first floating pitch was built 30 years ago out of wooden boards, and local boat driver Prakit Prasanpan recalled that "It was risky and dangerous. But we had to play on it because we had no pitch." Building a pitch on the island itself was impossible, as the terrain was too hilly.
In 2011, TMB Bank featured the floating pitch in their advertising campaign, entitled "Make THE Difference". After the campaign aired, the islanders received financial support from local authorities to build themselves a new, safer floating pitch.
TMB Bank's advert, featuring the old wooden pitch and the description, "The kids here loved to watch football but had nowhere to play or practice. But they didn't let that stop them."
But the campaign has not only helped enhance the local football team’s reputation: island chief Muhammad Prasanpan claims that raising Panyee's profile as a tourist destination has, over the last decade, contributed to a five-fold income increase among the island's inhabitants.
Perhaps most importantly, the pitch is also encouraging young people to stay in Panyee, rather than travel elsewhere to find work. Depopulation is one of the biggest challenges facing Thailand’s poorer communities, with many young adults forced to leave their home villages to find better-paid work on the mainland. The tourist traffic that the football pitch brings to Panyee, however, means that their young people can now stay put. Perhaps as a result of this, the island’s population has increased 50% over the last decade.