Officials fear Pattaya and Phuket are overcrowded hotspots

For every local resident in Pattaya there are 100 visitors.

The Federation of Thai Tourism Associations has formally warned the Thai government that overtourism is now at crisis point. With projections that the calendar year 2024 will see 40 million overseas visitors – parallel to 2019 the last pre-covid year – both the environment and tourist comfort are under dire threat.

The most badly affected cities are Phuket and Pattaya where there are respectively 118 and 99 overseas visitors for every local resident in research conducted by MoneyTransfers. That research is already several months out of date and the true ratios could be worse. Chris Flynn, chief officer of the World Tourism Association, said that Thai authorities don’t seem to have determined “what they can take before they break”.

The most obvious signs of overtourism in Pattaya are awesome traffic congestion made worse by tour buses crowding the inadequate roads and road repairs being conducted at several points in or near the city center. John Leeman, a tourist from Liverpool UK, said, ”It takes me at least one hour after dark to travel from Jomtien to central Pattaya, twice last year’s time, and when you get to your destination parking is near-impossible.”

The situation could soon be made worse by the threat of water shortages, caused by lack of rainfall, and also by the prospect of more passengers arriving at U-tapao airport near Pattaya. At the moment, some airlines decline to utilize that base as there is no regular bus passenger transport into Pattaya. If that situation changes, U-tapao can expect a surge in the number of daily arrivals.

In recent months, Thai tourist numbers have surged partly as a result of the abandonment of holiday visas for huge markets such as Russia, China and India. In response, Thai tourist authorities are trying to promote second-tier provinces to take the pressure off the traditional resorts. The Tourism Council of Thailand meanwhile is asking the government to collect the 300 baht entry fee to fund development and improvements. But many travel gurus doubt whether such policies will actually deter overtourism.

It is not just a Thai problem. In Greece the numbers visiting the Acropolis have been restricted by the need for advance booking and pre-payment. Holland has toughened its drug laws to deter the supposed hoodlum market and has banned the building of any more hotels. Some commentators see Thailand’s recent crackdown on foreign crime – over 400 arrested in Phuket on a variety of charges – and the likely banning of leisure cannabis later this year as signs that the government wants to deter some fun-loving overseas visitors. As one Cabinet minister put it, “We want quality tourists from now on.”