Coronavirus offers Pattaya clubs a bleak future

Night clubs are about socialization and not about social distancing. Will it ever be the same again?

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The owners of Pattaya’s 200 or so night spots offering vibrant forms of entertainment to foreign tourists fear that the virus pandemic could be a further nail in their coffin. Business was well down before Corona appeared on the scene as the hordes of fun-loving westerners have been gradually replaced by zero-sum, Chinese package first-timers in recent years.

All Pattaya clubs, as well as many other leisure businesses, are padlocked for the foreseeable future under the state of emergency regulations. Taweesak Chimdee, owner of a large nitery on Walking Street, said, “We are about socialization and not about social distancing. If our future lies in a customer ordering a drink from a person wearing a mask and a face shield before taking off his own mask to consume it, then that’s not going to work in Fun City.”

He also doubted that clubs could use the internet to livestream live bands, entertainers and even go-go dancers from empty night clubs. “That might work in Europe, but here in Pattaya we work on a shoestring budget and the staff depend on actual customers to make tips. There is no such thing as a “virtual” income with someone watching at home.


Daphne Sumtimez, a local drag queen who used to work several transvestite cabarets, said, “Gay clubs are in decline, that’s for sure.” She shovels the blame onto technology, the rise of dating and hookup apps epitomized by the market leader Grindr. But that’s only part of the story. Gay westerners have been finding countries nearer home both cheaper and more accommodating to LGBTQ. The ones left here are mostly ageing or aged retirees.

Pattaya club owners across the spectrum are attempting to adapt to the new reality. Some believe that customers will soon get used to temperature checks and hand sanitizers since they will be well-nigh universal. Others are adapting to new markets by planning to appeal specifically in the future to wealthy Asian visitors from Singapore, China and India. Still others hope that a secure vaccine will come riding to the rescue, whilst a few talk about fun-drones which will fly around dance floors advising people not to get too close.

The broader issue, of course, is whether Thailand can hope to secure the huge number of tourists overall which the government’s statistics people are forever proclaiming, nearly 40 million last year. If airlines are forced to reduce the seats on planes by between 35 and 50 percent in an attempt to enforce social distancing and company employees are dressed in white uniforms resembling nuclear plant technicians, one is bound to ask whether travel will ever be worth the trouble.

Maybe we should all take comfort from the French writer Voltaire whose favourite book by the way was Gulliver’s Travels. Voltaire’s anti-hero Candide travelled the world but became disillusioned by everything he saw including misery, poverty and plagues. He ended up saying the thing he had enjoyed the most in life was sitting in his own back garden.