Tourism representatives point to a bright future at November’s Skål Pattaya monthly meeting

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“Pattaya tourism … Where are we going?” was the title of a special panel discussion at the Skål Pattaya & East Thailand November meeting. Featuring leading representatives from the travel tourism industry in Thailand, the event was held on November 13 at the Dusit Thani Pattaya’s Napalai ballroom.

The panel discussion, moderated by Pattaya Mail Media Group Managing Director Peter Malhotra, consisted of H.E. Chatchawal Supachayanont, Honorary Consul to the Embassy of Sweden, and Honorary Adviser for the Thai Hotel Association (THA); Sinchai Wattanasartsathorn, President of the Pattaya Business & Tourism Association (PBTA); Suladda Sarutilavan, Director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Pattaya Office, and Sanpech Supabowornsthian, President of the Thai Hotel Association Eastern Chapter.

Tony Malhotra (2nd right) President of Skål International Pattaya & East Thailand presents club banners to Sinchai Wattanasartsathorn, Suladda Sarutilavan, H.E. Chatchawal Supachayanont and Sanpech Supabowornsthian.Tony Malhotra (2nd right) President of Skål International Pattaya & East Thailand presents club banners to Sinchai Wattanasartsathorn, Suladda Sarutilavan, H.E. Chatchawal Supachayanont and Sanpech Supabowornsthian.

Peter started the proceedings by stating that this has been a challenging time for Thailand. The tourism sector has suffered this year, and that, in time, with the assistance of the panel, Thailand and therefore Pattaya would bounce back.

Chatchawal Supachayanont started by saying he is a long time resident of Pattaya.  Over the years many changes have taken place, many of which propelled the city from a village to an international tourist destination.

“I am now involved in the next 20 year plan for Pattaya City, including improvements to dealing with the traffic, enhancing the infrastructure, preparing for the airport link and a bus terminal hub. All of these are good initiatives that will be great assets for Pattaya.”

Chatchawal acknowledged that in the past Pattaya had something of a negative image compared to other resorts, such as Hua Hin and Phuket; however, he could see how land prices have changed the face of the city.

“With our overseas promotions we have brought much foreign investment to Pattaya. Together with the cooperation of City Hall and the various authorities, we can see that land prices have increased dramatically, and that previously the focus was always on South Pattaya. Now business has spread right across the city, with more businesses and many new hotels.”

Suladda Sarutilavan gave a presentation regarding the tourism structure of Thailand and highlighted the uniqueness of Pattaya.

“The Prime Minister is at the top of the chain regarding tourism; he is followed by the Ministry of Tourism and Sports. The Tourism Authority of Thailand is one of the state enterprises in the Ministry of Tourism.”

Suladda pointed out that the TAT is responsible for tourism promotion domestically and internationally, PR and marketing of Thailand’s brand image.

“The thing that makes Pattaya so attractive is the sheer variety of tourism products and services, including our beaches, art & culture, entertainment, golf courses, spas and water parks.  This serves the needs of both domestic and international tourists.”

The TAT works with the Thai Hotels Association Eastern Chapter, the Pattaya Business & Tourism Association (PBTA), the Chonburi Attractions Club, the Golf Courses Association Eastern Region, the Chonburi Spa Association and many more clubs and organizations.

“The budget that enables us to do promotions and marketing for the international market comes from the Chonburi Administrative Organization and Pattaya City, so we do lots of activities, road shows and tradeshows in Singapore, London, Berlin and New Delhi. Next year we plan to have road shows in China, Korea and Indonesia. We do all this and collaborate with travel agencies, hotels and airlines.”

The TAT is represented in 27 countries around the world, with seven offices in Europe and the Middle East, 11 in East Asia, two in the Americas and seven in ASEAN and the South Pacific.

“Our major aim is to increase travel volume, especially from repeat travelers… it’s our job to bring them back (with) major events such as the International Music Festival, Songkran Festival, Pattaya Grand Sale and our world famous Countdown Festival in the run up to New Year.”

TAT plans to create a Buddhist circuit to highlight some of the magnificent temples in the region, and to support MICE groups from the industrial areas out of Pattaya by offering incentives to bring them here. Plus highlight sports tourism, such as golf, biking & water sports.

PBTA President Sinchai Wattanasartsathorn stated that the PBTA was established over 20 years ago by hotel owners in Pattaya and currently has 110 members including hotels, restaurants and tour agencies. The objective of the PBTA is to promote business and tourism to a higher standard, to provide information for its members, to participate in the tourism and marketing of Pattaya, and to present and follow up with the government sector to take action regarding problems in tourism.

“Statistics show that in 2007 we had 5.8 million tourists who visited Pattaya; however, in 2008/2009 that number decreased more than 40%. This was due to the world economic crisis. In 2010 we were able to get the tourists back, and had new customers from China, India and especially Russians. But the last 2 years numbers have decreased again, and have also done so again this year.”

Sinchai noted that Thailand is a resilient nation that has recovered from many crises, such as SARS and government instability, and that people still come back to Thailand.

“I put this down to the variety of tourist attractions both natural and man-made. Pattaya also offers good value for money and now we have even better access from the international airport. This coupled with good hotels, restaurants and hospitals, golf courses and international schools, and perhaps most importantly, the strong private sector that works closely with the government sector to deal with the different problems that we face.”

Looking to the future, Sinchai believes that Pattaya will continue to grow, yet acknowledges that there is a great deal of competition outside of Thailand.

“Malaysia, Singapore, Burma and Vietnam are now growing tourism destinations and I believe that the Russian market has, to some extent, moved to Vietnam. We also have to be aware of some of the reasons why tourists may not choose to come to Pattaya, such as traffic problems, cleanliness and exploitation of tourists. So over the next five years we must work hard on developing new markets, and deal with the problems that I have mentioned.”

THA-Eastern Chapter President Sanpech Supabowornsthian was born in Pattaya and is proud to be a citizen of this dynamic city. He has worked in the hospitality sector for 26 years and observed that now supply outweighs demand.

“Right now we are in something of a crisis, as for the last ten years we enjoyed massive income form the Russian market. However, we have seen this year that it has decreased by at least 50%. We have seen a slight increase in the Chinese market, whose citizens mostly use budget hotels. A survey done regarding the various accommodation choices in Pattaya, including hotels, motels and budget rooms, revealed that there are 2,174 different outlets. This amounts to 136,000 rooms in the region. If we have 10 million tourists (a year), this is simply not enough based on the amount of rooms, and some businesses will not survive.”

Sanpech pointed out that Pattaya has the potential to grow, but the private sector should work more closely with the government to deal with the various problems, such as the taxi drivers, mini vans, counter tours and service.

“Right now the government tries to work to clean up and improve the city and as the president of the Thai Hotel Association Eastern Chapter I will do my best to do the best for the city and am always willing to help you.”

This discussion was followed by a lively Q&A session. People questioned things like, what was being done about the beaches, and that the various organizations should welcome the disabled travelers and not see them as charity cases but rather as an untapped source of revenue.

This was taken on board by the panel, who stressed that budgets were always somewhat tight, but that they acknowledged that these along with other topics were important for the continued growth of Pattaya.

The guests enjoyed the extensive buffet at the Dusit Thani and a lively debate continued under the Skål motto of “Doing Business Amongst Friends”.

Skål Pattaya International and East Thailand will return again at another venue early next year. More information can be found in the Pattaya Mail and on the Skål facebook page: www.facebook.com/skalpattaya.