Neo Pattaya on back burner for now

An artist’s impression of neo-Pattaya sometime in the future.

The priority for Pattaya right now is to get foreign tourism back on track after a two-year hiatus. Recently-elected mayor Poramet Ngampichet has acknowledged that the city businesses must begin to make a profit from traditional markets. He has ordered a speedup on the city’s many road repair projects, even as new holes are still appearing downtown.

In 2020 the previous mayor Sonthaya Kunplume had launched the concept of neo (new) Pattaya which was designed, over time, to replace the traditional resort with its controversial reliance on mass tourism and night owls. It was envisaged that Pattaya might even become a business and tourism center like Miami which is the busiest leisure cruise port in the world, whilst also leading in commerce and investment.

Thanks largely to funding by the Eastern Economic Corridor, a joint Thai and international funding agency, ring roads have been completed and various enhancement subprojects in neighboring Naklua and Koh Larn begun or approved. Amongst ongoing neo-major projects are a hi-speed rail project linking the area with Bangkok and extended port facilities at Bal Hai. Meanwhile, Thai authorities have sought to boost high-value (wealthy) expats by visa concessions and by encouraging Pattaya as a MICE (conferences, exhibitions etc) center.

However, it has become obvious that Pattaya’s neo status lies in the distant future, if at all. Mayoral candidate Sinchai Wattanasartsathorn suggested that Pattaya must learn to walk before running. He pointed out that day-to-day issues such as drainage, traffic chaos, pollution and the disgraceful state of footpaths needed to be priority tasks. During the recent campaign in which Sinchai was placed second, he stressed that 90 percent of income came from short-term tourists who were not concerned about the resort’s eventual destiny.

Pattaya’s Walking Street illustrates the dilemmas. In 2020, the Department of Provincial Administration (which issues business licences) stated that no new permits would be issued on the seaward side of the thoroughfare as the buildings were on publicly-owned land and should be demolished. However, such licences were none the less issued for 2022 and frantic attempts are being made to restore the Street to its former glory in time for the autumn anticipated “high” season. There have been persistent rumors about the Walking Street making way for a family-orientated and business district, with zoos and upmarket malls, but no detailed plans have been published.

Greg Watkins, a UK-based travel consultant, said, “Our customers right now want to return to Thailand for a fun-packed vacation. They will put up with the environmental problems because pre-entry registration and alcohol restrictions have largely been abolished (from July 1). However, if the Chinese return and the roads are clogged with tour buses, they are likely to look at less crowded destinations in Cambodia and Vietnam,” he said. A City Hall spokesperson commented, “Our priority now is the restoration of tourism, but neo-Pattaya projects are ongoing and will be continued.” In other words, neo-Pattaya is a dim light on the horizon.