Faced with an unprecedented economic crisis, Pattaya must refocus efforts to improve its economy, quell the drug epidemic, restore the environment and embrace Thai culture if it hopes to regain its competitiveness, Mayor Sonthaya Kunplome said.
Speaking Aug. 4, the mayor said that even during the 1997 Asian Economic Crisis, Pattaya suffered less than other areas of Thailand thanks to its diversified economy built on tourism, industry, agriculture, fisheries, transportation and commerce. If one sector suffered, the others were there to pick it up.
The coronavirus pandemic, however, has smashed every sector. Tourism is down 95 percent. Manufacturers are closing factories. Commerce is depressed due to the recession and transportation has declined as people stay home. Even agriculture is suffering due to lower demand and plunging exports.
The government has bet big on the Eastern Economic Corridor project, theorizing that by upgrading both infrastructure and education, Thailand could again reach parity with the economic growth of its neighbors. Before the pandemic, Pattaya’s economy was expected to grow 5 percent. Now the country faces its worst recession in history with a new projection from the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce forecasting an 11.4 percent drop in GDP this year, worse than even 1997.
Sonthaya said the EEC still is a viable strategy for long-term development.
By investing in the future, he said, the economy can recover. “The question is, how can we spread opportunities to cover all areas? How will this development improve people’s better living?” Sonthaya asked.
A big part is solving the region’s drug problem, he said. He claimed 76 percent of drug users are unskilled laborers, farmers and the unemployed, with 40 percent of users 15-24 years old. As a result, narcotics have deeply affected incomes and families, leading to a range of other social problems.
The environment is also a pressing concern. Filthy beaches and plastic-infested oceans drive away tourists and imperil the health of the local population, he said.
Finally, there’s culture. Sonthaya asked how Pattaya “can support living together with warmth and interdependence between people of different ages and nationalities to be united and to link together?”
Building those “four pillars” can create a strong foundation for Pattaya to thrive after the pandemic ends, the mayor said.