Since the pandemic began and tourism became sparse, Thailand’s tuk-tuk drivers have been struggling. Now, K-Pop fans are becoming their unexpected helpers—here’s how.
While numerous people across Thailand have suffered financially as a result of the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic, tuk-tuk drivers are among those hit worst. For years, drivers have operated their tuk-tuks (rickshaw vehicles) as taxis around Thailand, provides tourists and locals alike with a transportation option that circumvents traffic and offers more intimate vides of Bangkok and other major cities. However, as a result of the pandemic, tuk-tuk drivers saw their passenger numbers drop by 85%.
But now, they have an unlikely group of helpers enabling them to pull through the financial devastation: K-Pop fans. Buying birthday ads has been a staple of K-Pop fandom life for as long as most can remember, but now, fans are branching out beyond billboards and subway station posters. Instead, tuk-tuks have become a growing method of birthday advertising for K-Pop fans in Thailand.
It seems the movement all began last year when anti-government protests saw a sudden surge in Thailand. After thousands of young people took to the streets protesting to remove the Prime Minister from his post, subway services began shutting down to stop students from gathering and making a stand. In retaliation, K-Pop fans among the protests got their own back by pulling their birthday advertising funds away from subway billboards.
Instead, they began printing cardboard signs and asking tuk-tuk drivers to display them in exchange for money. 27-year-old Pichaya Prachathomrong, for example, recently gathered Super Junior fans to raise 18,000 Thai baht (around $565 USD). The fans used that money to place ads for Yesung‘s latest album on 13 tuk-tuks around Bangkok.
Now, 21-year-old veterinary student Thitipong Lohawech has even started an initiative to help tuk-tuk drivers secure more advertisements. His Tuk-Up service has already signed contracts with 300 tuk-tuk drivers who advertise over 10 international and local advertising campaigns every month.
The fans are our life support system and give us hope to keep fighting.
— Pairot Suktham, tuk-tuk driver
Prices to place advertisements with Tuk Up range from just 500 to 1,000 baht per month ($15 to 30 USD), but this money is making a real difference to drivers affected by the pandemic. While the government is said to be providing relief funds, they’re only accessible via a mobile application, and many drivers don’t have smartphones at all. Now, drivers like 39-year-old Samran Thammasa are able to earn around $20 a month just for featuring ads.
The extra income may not be a lot for most people but it is for us.
— Samran Thammasa, tuk-tuk driver