Pattaya in 2020 is entirely different from how the city has been for the past 20 years, a city with no foreign tourists, or tourists that can’t get home and wish they could. As someone described it, “Pattaya without tourists, is like Disneyland without Mickey Mouse”. Unfortunately, that is perhaps closer to the truth than what most people would think. Things just don’t feel quite right, and while it is nice to have your favourite restaurant largely to yourself or walk on the beach without seeing a soul, it does feel strange.

You only have to walk out of your house, condo or even your hotel and you notice things are very different. The roads that used to be packed with coaches are now mostly deserted. The motorbike taxis are noticeably fewer in number and now craving your business more than ever before. Queues in Family Mart and 7-Eleven are moving freely without haven’t to wait behind tourists who don’t know what they want or understand the currency! It all sounds great, and after the bars and restaurant first started to re-open, in reality, it was. However, the novelty has worn off, and we all want the tourists back.

Many of our favourite bars and restaurants, right across the city closed their doors at the start of lockdown, only for them never to re-open again. It is the harsh reality that almost everyone has found this year harder than any they have ever experienced in Pattaya before. It was very much in evidence with the number of bars and restaurants giving away free food to the needy and the horrendous amounts of people waiting, obviously desperate for food and water. Pattaya has always been resourceful, and this year it has needed to be.

As you walk down the road, you will notice that the open bars that used to be packed throughout the day and night are closed. You have to feel some sorrow for the girls. They need to earn money not only to survive themselves but to send money home to their families. The tourists that come to Pattaya are far more than the lifeblood of those in the city; they are the lifeblood of families across the country. Yes, the expats are going in the bars, but they are limited in their numbers, and they are no long-term substitute and relying on them solely is unsustainable.

As with all things, there have been winners as well as losers. Survival of the fittest has been very much in evidence, as it has in reality for the last couple of years. The result is that those who do see out the storm are better for it and offer a better product as a result. It is something that is not only good in the short-term, but the benefits will be ongoing long after COVID-19 is forgotten. Pattaya will become a better proposition for everyone, and some are perhaps thinking that cutting away some of the chaff was probably needed, as harsh as that may seem.

As always, during more trying times, opportunities present themselves either to those with money or those who are creative. Now is the perfect time to start building something new in anticipation of people returning. It can be tailored to the market that we all expect. Tourists won’t have money to burn, the days of the two-week millionaire seem a long way away at the moment, but that might be no bad thing. Building a product that suits the market will work, it’s just a case of dropping on something, and many are starting to do that.

One good thing that may come out of all of this is that people will start to realise the need for contingency plans. The “live for today” attitude enjoyed by many will need to be quelled. The need for adequate health insurance should be welcomed and recognised that it is essential and not a luxury for the rich. People’s lives will need to change, and although they may not like it a first, it is building a more sustainable future for everyone with savings, insurance and contingency plans that are in place should anything like this happen again.

It would be hard to argue that the real estate industry hasn’t been hit hard during the enforced break. However, as day-to-day life starts to return, we have definitely seen things pick up. There are some bargains to be had, and it is a buyer’s market at present. Rentals are inevitably down, but those who are looking to move condos or house have a plethora at choice, most of which is at knock-down prices. There really hasn’t been a better time to invest in Pattaya in the last decade than now.

Thailand needs to be proactive as a country too, recognising that they will face plenty of competition and a more welcoming and less arrogant approach needs to be adopted. Countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia have been waiting in the wings to seize their chance to take the lead, and if Thailand doesn’t react, it may well get left behind.

Thailand has spent years trying to make the country a more exciting prospect for big business. The EEC is being developed around us with infrastructure improvements already made. The country needs to regain its focus and once again make it easier for businesses to grow. Suppose Thailand is to be a regional hub, with exports being crucial to these multinationals. In that case, the situation with the currency will need to be addressed, even if it does dent a few people’s egos.

We don’t know when the tourists will come back with the tourism minister giving little grounds for optimism of things changing in the near future. Indeed his suggestion that even Chinese New Year in February “might be too early” did little to restore confidence. Most of us here are confident that things will return to normal, and not the “new normal” soon and the chances are that the city will be stronger than ever before. However, the quicker that happens, the better it will be for everyone.