Pattaya City Hall, in an unannounced but significant move, has changed its controversial billboard at the entrance to Walking Street. The original wording “Welcome to Neo Pattaya” has been changed to “Welcome to Pattaya”, although the futuristic scene of a waterfront landscape without a beer hall or go-go club in sight has been left alone.
Neo Pattaya has been heavily promoted by the local authority in the past two years. It envisaged a Neo or New Pattaya which would abandon its traditional reliance on the flesh pots and move rapidly upmarket to become a business and leisure center more like Miami, Singapore or Abu Dhabi. Attention was drawn to beach renovation projects, ring roads, the Bali Hai pier transformation and the upcoming hi-speed rail link to Bangkok as examples of a Neo Pattaya generously funded by Thai and foreign investors in the three-province Eastern Economic Corridor.
The aspirations were always optimistic, at any rate in the near term. Many improvements notwithstanding, Pattaya continues to be plagued by flooding in the wet season and environmental pollution all the year round. Many millions of baht have been spent on Pattaya beach improvements, only to risk being washed away in the rainy season. Raw sewage still finds its way into the sea in some districts of Greater Pattaya. The resort’s main streets are lined with bulldozed vacant lots, awaiting building permits, which are unsightly. Traffic snarl-ups are back in the afternoons and evenings.
Neo Pattaya has also been put on hold because life is being breathed into traditional tourism. Most bars have reopened even if they have to pose as restaurants and require the fig leaf of respectability provided by the certificates of the Safety and Health Authority. A recent inspection of Walking Street revealed that the only types of business still out of action are go-go chrome palaces. But live music, romantic settings and even dancing are back on the agenda, or so it seems.
A City Hall officer said, “The emphasis at the moment is on welcoming domestic tourists and visitors from traditional markets, such as Europe and the United States, who were approved under the Test and Go policy now in abeyance.” He explained that the concept of Neo Pattaya was designed before the coronavirus pandemic appeared and that it was a 10 year strategy. However, with so many questions marks in 2022 about the pesky virus and the future of international travel, Pattaya has to learn to walk again before running can even be contemplated.