Thailand’s economy grew 2.2 percent in the first quarter as exports and tourism rebounded after the relaxation of pandemic restrictions, the country’s main economic agency said Tuesday.
During the pandemic, Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy suffered its worst economic performance since the 1997 Asian financial crisis, with visitor numbers crashing from roughly 40 million annually.
But this month the tourism-dependent kingdom dropped almost all restrictions for fully vaccinated visitors, including the need for Covid-19 tests to travel.
“The export sector is good… the tourism industry is getting better due to the relaxation of entry requirements for tourists,” National Economic and Social Development Council secretary general Danucha Pichayanan said.
The agency said the economy grew by 2.2 percent in January to March compared with the same period last year, and by 1.1 percent compared with the previous quarter.
The figures are a stark turnaround from the depths of the pandemic, which saw the economy contract by 6.1 percent in 2020.
The agency said global market volatility from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and a slowdown in China’s economy thanks to virus lockdowns across various cities, were affecting the pace of the kingdom’s economic recovery.
Ukraine is a key exporter of fertiliser and the war has reduced supply in Thailand.
The Thai government has sought to ease the shortage by sourcing fertiliser from Saudi Arabia.
The agency also raised its inflation forecasts this year to between 4.2-5.2 percent, up from the earlier range of 1.5-2.5 percent.
Danucha attributed the inflation increase to rising energy prices.
The country has a weekly average of more than 6,500 daily new coronavirus infections, although testing is limited.
YouTube Shorts touts 1.5 bn users, taking on TikTok
YouTube on Wednesday said that more than 1.5 billion people monthly tune into its Shorts video service, which competes with global sensation TikTok.
Alphabet-owned YouTube and Facebook-parent Meta both added short-form video sharing formats to their services after TikTok — which late last year said it topped a billion users — became the rage.
YouTube Shorts went live less than two years ago, adding videos of no longer than 60 seconds to the mix of offerings on the platform.
“Shorts has really taken off and are now being watched by over 1.5 billion logged-in users every month,” said YouTube chief product officer Neal Mohan.
“We know the product will continue to be an integral part of the YouTube experience moving forward.”
YouTube last year launched a $100 million fund to “reward creators” whose video clips attract audiences to the online stage.
YouTube has also put the Silicon Valley tech titan’s advertising skills to work helping creators generate income from content on the platform, which brought in billions of dollars in revenue in 2021.
Creators are taking advantage of podcasting, shorts, and live streaming at YouTube in a “multi-platform approach,” said vice president of the Americas Tara Walpert Levy.
“This approach is yielding real results; channels uploading both short and long-form content are seeing better overall watch time and subscriber growth than those uploading only one format,” Levy said.
She billed YouTube as a one-stop shop for people to “flex their creative muscles.”
TikTok, owned by China-based ByteDance, early this year began letting users upload slightly longer videos, raising the maximum length to 10 minutes from 3 minutes.
YouTube, Meta, and TikTok compete to be the platform of preference from popular online personalities with revenue making features such as subscriptions or shares in ad revenue.
Small gun makers boom as US demand soars
Tony Hook flipped through cell phone pictures of finished work by his New Hampshire shop, explaining how one customer wanted mementos of major life events: a gun to mark each of his children’s births.
Smaller gun makers like him are booming in the United States, thanks to ravenous and sometimes specialized demand for pricey limited-production pistols and custom rifles, engraved with bible passages or the American flag.
“He had us build a gun for every newborn he had,” explained Hook, the owner of RTD Arms & Sport. “So this is his son’s name and his date of birth,” he said, showing the engraving on a rifle.
The millions of guns produced annually in the United States are primarily made by the nation’s biggest manufacturers, yet smaller operators have poured into a market that saw production nearly triple from 2000 to 2020.
The smaller makers can churn out parts destined for major firms like Sig Sauer or Smith & Wesson and for enthusiasts and gun shops, or they can be manufacturers themselves of specialized or customized weapons.
“It’s just like maybe stitching your name onto your baseball glove or having custom pinstriping put on your car,” said Hook. “People do the same with their guns. It’s a piece of them.”
– $1,700 guns –
The United States has a deep culture of gun ownership centered around a constitutional guarantee for Americans to keep and bear arms, and as a result has a sprawling market of weapons, gear and accessories.
America also sees roughly 40,000 gun deaths a year, about half of which are suicides, though homicides increased at historic rates during the pandemic.
In this context, the gun and ammunition industry added an estimated $70 billion to the US economy in 2021 according to industry group NSSF — perhaps not surprising when a single rifle from a smaller workshop like Hook’s can sell between $1,295-$1,695.
“Seeing that the gun doesn’t have to look so generic, it’s attracting people in that never considered it before,” he added.
The boom in gun making is illuminated in US federal firearms license statistics, with the number of so-called “type 7” permits that allow production as well as sales increasing by over 694 percent from 2000 to 2020.
Getting one of those permits requires paperwork from applicants that includes their photo, fingerprints and other information, while the government also does a background check and in-person interview.
Big states like Texas and Florida each had hundreds of manufacturers of all sizes that reported, as required by law, their production to federal authorities for 2020, the most recent figures available.
Matrix Arms in New Hampshire is one of those makers and its CEO and owner Allen Farris said so many manufacturers have joined the industry that the market has been saturated for at least the past six years now.
– ‘People are the problem’ –
Yet his company appeared to be staying busy, with a row of machines the size of shipping containers churning out gun parts on a recent weekday.
He noted that each week they produce 4,300-5,300 rifle receivers — key central components to making a gun.
“Our state motto in New Hampshire is ‘Live free or die’ and I think the firearm industry kind of goes hand in hand with that,” he added.
Hook and Farris emphasized they did not want their guns to be used in crime or mass murder and said they followed the law — with Hook also citing his own instinct, if a would-be buyer sets off alarm bells — to try to prevent that.
Inevitably, as the gun making industry has grown, more people face the risk the firearms they produce could be used in a crime, mass shooting or suicide.
“We don’t look at it as guns are the problem. People are the problem. Whether it’s a gun, a knife or a rock — Cain didn’t kill Abel with a gun. He killed him with a rock,” Hook said.
Farris added: “If somebody has the motivation to go out and try to kill people, first of all they could choose a million different ways.”
“Obviously I don’t want my guns being used in that way, but there’s nothing I can do to prevent it at that point.”
It’s a small world: Disney to fly guests round all 12 parks for $110,000
Not sure which Disney resort to visit next summer?
Disney chiefs have a solution for its most obsessive — and deep-pocketed — fans, offering a round-the-world package trip to all 12 parks, starting at a hefty $110,000 per person.
“Disney Parks Around The World — A Private Jet Adventure” will fly 75 mega-fans around the world in July 2023, with VIP visits to Disney resorts in California, Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Paris and Florida.
Across 24 days, there will also be stops at countries which do not have Disney parks, including tours of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India and Egypt’s Pyramids of Giza.
According to its brochure, the “bucket list adventure” also includes a “rare opportunity to be a guest at Summit Skywalker Ranch,” founded by “Star Wars” creator George Lucas outside San Francisco.
“You’ll travel in luxury via a VIP-configured Boeing 757, operated by Icelandair, with long-range capabilities that allows for direct flights to maximize your time in each destination,” it says.
Guests will be joined on board by “experts and staff, who use an audiovisual system for informative briefings and lectures,” while Disney “leaders” and “Imagineers” will be on hand at various points.
As well as the movies, TV shows and theme parks it is best known for, the Walt Disney Company has long offered travel packages, including cruises.
With theme park attendances and tourism more generally recovering from the pandemic, Disney’s latest offering is its most luxurious yet.
The $109,995 per person price tag is based on two people sharing, with those who travel solo facing an additional surcharge of at least $10,995.
No discount is offered for children, who must be at least 12, and airfare to Los Angeles and from Orlando for the first and last legs is excluded.
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