There is great optimism around Pattaya about the prospect of opening up to vaccinated international visitors from 46 countries. Many businesses have their eyes set on December 1 when, maybe, the bars and clubs will reopen. It is even possible that restaurants will be allowed to serve alcohol to diners before then. After all, the “blue zone” of Phuket can already do just that. So why not here?
A popular Pattaya radio station says that the latest entry requirements mean that the arrivals procedure is “almost back to normal.” Beach vendors are delighted that there are now many more bottoms on seats than even a month ago. Deck chair concessionaire Khun Oy says, “At weekends, the beach road parking areas are packed on both sides.” He adds that the customers are not just Bangkok Thais, but also many expats from the metropolis and beyond.
New businesses are springing up too. Fast food franchises continue opening up as others remain closed. The gay-oriented Jomtien Complex is mostly shuttered, but a large double-unit has already been refurbished and renamed for a grand opening whenever permitted. Dorothy’s Showbar, a name reminiscent of the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, promises on its magic message board to offer fair prices and a warm welcome. A chatty taxi driver lounging nearby told me it was named after a drag-show club in Liverpool.
Others are not so sure about the future. Public announcements in Thailand are not always correct as each government agency speaks for itself alone. The country’s civil aviation authority recently published a chart that all foreign tourists must buy their Covid insurance specifically from a Thai company, only to be contradicted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Bangkok Post issued an apology after stating that some arriving foreigners did not need any medical insurance – no matter where issued. These mistakes were first publicly noticed by Richard Barrow, a popular Bangkok blogger with his eye firmly fixed on the ball. He rightly points out that high-level mistakes like these are anti-marketing strategies.
Many details remain to be filled in. Arriving vaccinated passengers will be able to transfer directly to Pattaya to have their RT-PCR test and wait in a pre-registered hotel until the result is known. Some reports say the Pattaya-bound passengers will need to be escorted to the seaside in special buses, others that they are free to make their own independent arrangements to leave the airport. At the time of writing, Thai embassies abroad, the consortia of insurance companies and the government’s registration portal have not updated their sites.
The 46 countries whose vaccinated travelers will not require formal quarantine do not include Russia and the Indian subcontinent whose citizens provided around 25 percent of pre-pandemic visitors to Pattaya. China, which provided an even greater percentage, is included in the OK list, but tour groups abroad are banned and individual vacationers face up to 21 days in quarantine on return.
Paradoxically, Thailand in the short term is falling back on its traditional tourist markets: UK, US, mainland Europe, Australia and the Middle East. There has been much speculation in recent years about a future neo-Pattaya, a business and leisure hub, which would look very different from the old. Those plans are now deferred as the tourist-starved city craves cash from any quarter. Expect the go-go bars to be back before Christmas.