For most of the last decade, we have been continually hearing that Pattaya wants to attract “high-quality tourists” and this means the big spenders. City Hall and even the TAT became embarrassed by Pattaya’s infamous reputation and wanted to change the city’s image permanently. Significantly, this has been achieved in that it can now genuinely claim to be a family-friendly resort with families from Russia and tour groups from China, before the pandemic at least, making up the vast majority of Pattaya’s tourist business.
While the bright flashing lights, cheap beer bars and attractive girls certainly haven’t disappeared, they are no longer as prominent as they were ten to fifteen years ago. Few would argue that to a certain group, often quite wealthy groups of working or retired ex-pats, this side of Pattaya holds plenty of appeals, so will it disappear completely? The answer is almost definitely “no”, but it is unlikely to dissuade high-quality tourists so long as it remains limited to specific areas.
What does Pattaya have to offer to big spenders at the present time?
It is a question that continually gets posed and whilst we read that Pattaya wants to become the “new Miami, Dubai or Singapore”, can it persuade regular visitors to these established destinations, to come to Pattaya instead? Well, Pattaya does have superb 5-star hotels, luxury condos, golf courses, and to an extent, high-class restaurants. Still, it lacks many other features, such as a world-class beach and upmarket shopping districts.
Yes, you could argue that Koh Larn and even Koh Samet offer the beaches, but these are places that you have to travel to, and can’t be reached by walking out your front door. Central Festival and Terminal 21 offer quality boutique shopping, but they lack the designer brands available in Bangkok. Again, as Bangkok can be reached in a couple of hours, you could argue that this isn’t an insurmountable problem, but you need to make an effort and plan to make the trip.
However, all this may seem on the face of it negative, and pooh-pooh the idea that Pattaya can never attract high-quality tourists; far from it. The foundations are in place as these groups demand quality accommodation and golf courses, especially the superb selection that we have around Pattaya already and the excellent value for money which they present. Families also want plenty of activities for children. They too exist already such as the amazing water parks at Ramayana and Cartoon Network Amazone. We also have Nong Nooch Botanical Gardens and Silverlake Vineyard. These are all options that are a far cry for Pattaya’s traditional image.
What is holding the city back from making the next step?
Before the pandemic, one of the biggest problems the city was experiencing was the congestion, predominantly from the tour buses transporting mainly Chinese tourists from one attraction to the next. The pollution created was horrendous and, in reality, the attractions that appeal to these tour groups, don’t appeal to anyone else. Although we don’t want to get drawn too much into the argument that very little of their money was going back into the local economy, it was a genuine problem for many local shops, bars, and restaurants.
Several attempts have been made and failed to improve Pattaya’s seafront. Along Pattaya Beach Road to Wongamat, some serious problems are evident for all to see. Sand has been and keeps being swept away by high tides. The water isn’t as clean as City Hall would like to believe. The potentially superb walking areas in Wongamat, which again has repeatedly fallen victim to shoddy workmanship are an embarrassment rather than something to be proud of. The continually flash flooding is also a problem, but these are all things that can be addressed, and if quality contractors do the work, they can be addressed quickly.
How does the city progress?
All of the problems that we have highlighted are problems that can be relatively easily overcome. There is no escaping the fact that it will cost money, a lot of money, for some projects, but they are needed if Pattaya genuinely wants to compete with Miami, Dubai, and Singapore. Where to begin is perhaps the major stumbling block. Still, if Pattaya used the current lack of tourists as an opportunity, changes to the city’s infrastructure, in particular ending flash flooding and putting wave-breakers in place to reduce erosion of the beach, it would be a fantastic starting point.
Mass transit systems such as the much-mooted Skytrain or tram network are superb ideas but are medium to long-term projects. City Hall needs to stop talking about these ideas and start actioning them. Reduced congestion and easily getting from A to B will make the city far more appealing. The road networks could be improved, park and ride schemes put in place, and banning all vehicles with high exhaust emissions from entering city limits. It will inevitably take time, but the longer it takes to get these projects off the ground, the longer it will be before we saw any real progress.
City Hall needs to put firm plans in place and accept that there will be opposition from some groups who have their own vested interests at heart. The city can’t be held back by baht bus drivers, taxi drivers or dodgy Jet Ski operators, none of whom do anything to improve the city’s image to anyone, let alone high-quality tourists! Tough decisions need to be made and acted upon if attracting more “high-quality tourists” is genuinely the objective.
So, can Pattaya attract high-quality tourists?
The answer is simple, yes it can, but it needs to decide whether these are the groups of people that they really want to attract. Competing with the cities mentioned may be ambitious, not least because of geography, so losing the image of being a city of the “wanted and unwanted” may be the achievable objective. We are already a long way down this route and Pattaya has lost much of its sleazy image. The opportunities and the options are there, so we need to embark on a path to secure the city’s long-term future prosperity.