A year ago Pattaya was a ghost town, but the exorcism has been a remarkable success. International tourism has rebounded to around 60 percent of its pre-covid levels, whilst domestic tourism by Thais is responsible for the weekend traffic jams which are, alas, becoming routine. Travel agents complain that the shortage of flights, especially from Europe, is the main stumbling block to an even faster boom. Costs have doubled but the demand verges on insatiable.
The eastern chapter of the hoteliers’ association notes that some five star venues are already a sellout for the upcoming festive season. Charter flights from Russia are starting again, whilst a resumption of Chinese mass tourism is expected early next year. Although U-Tapao (Rayong) airport is still mainly a base for domestic routes, there are grandiose plans to create a regional hub once infrastructure progress is complete.
Meanwhile, culture minister Ittiphol Khunpluem has announced plans to promote traditional Thai culture on the international stage and to designate Pattaya as the center of the film industry by offering cash rebates on production shoots and easier access to short-time work permits for foreign crews. It’s a far cry from the traditional fears of Thai authorities that the foreign media were interested only in exposing sleaze.
The recent APEC international business summit, hosted by prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, has also put Pattaya on the center stage. The resort sits in the middle of the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), a major infrastructure and investment project which has already transformed road and sea communications between Bangkok and three provinces of which Chonburi and Pattaya are based. The EEC is also promoting investment opportunities in decarbonization, wellness and health, logistics and digitization in 12 targeted industries. It’s a trillion dollar affair.
There is also growing evidence that European tourists in particular are staying for longer. The Thai immigration bureau has extended the time period for most tourists to stay in the country without hassle. Additionally, there are now several Pattaya-based travel agencies offering same-day visa runs to the Cambodian border for those wanting an extra 45 days in Thailand, or needing to activate a multi-entry visa already granted by a Thai embassy abroad. Local companies offering these trips three times a week say the frequency is expected to become daily in the new year.
In fact, Pattaya is so exceeding earlier expectations that there is a concern about the city’s capacity to cope. The resort is still peppered with incomplete road works and cable-burying leading to jams on some thoroughfares. If the huge Chinese tour buses were to return any time soon, the clogging could become unmanageable. There is also concern about environmental pollution as the city’s garbage trucks struggle to keep up and smog persists on some mornings. Ko Larn, the island across the bay, receives 20,000 visitors on weekend days, with suggestions the numbers need to be capped. Pattaya is undoubtedly on a roll. She must beware rolling over.