Pattaya still waiting for Chinese zero-dollar tours to restart

Chinese tourists arrive on large tour buses for the cabaret at the popular 79 Show on Pattaya’s Thepprasit Road.

Although around 500,000 Chinese have already visited Thailand this year, there is little sign that the much-debated zero-sum holidays have yet returned. They were especially popular in Pattaya prior to the pandemic. They are essentially all-in tours, paid for in China prior to flying, which essentially benefit Thai-Chinese companies and nominee businesses which host the vacationers by pre-arranging flights, accommodation and entertainment. Once in Thailand, pressure is often put on the visitors to spend at nominated outlets such as jewelry and artifact stores, or even malls.

The Association of Thai Travel Agents said there was not much evidence of zero-sum options actually happening yet, though they were certainly being marketed in cities such as Xian which has direct flights to U-tapao airport near Pattaya. With return flights now averaging 22,000 baht (US$650) plus other inflationary pressures, zero-sum holidays have become around 30 percent more expensive than in the pre-covid era. The now-expanded U-tapao also receives daily around eight international flights, mostly from the Middle East and provincial Russian cities.

Other factors delaying the return of discounted vacations are Chinese delays in the issuing of passports, many of which expired during the covid pandemic when travel from China was virtually impossible. Most Chinese have never owned a passport, but increasing numbers certainly want one as revealed by long queues at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in major Chinese cities. Another problem is the lack of Chinese-speaking tour guides in Thailand – a highly sensitive issue as this profession is reserved for Thais under the alien labour legislation. China has agreed to collaborate with Thai authorities in cracking down on Chinese nationals acting as unofficial translators, though how energetically is disputed.

However, there is limited evidence that zero-sum holidays from China are beginning in Pattaya. For example, The 79 Adult Show on the resort’s Thepprasit Road recently reopened after the covid hiatus and regularly has 20 or so tour buses full of Chinese in the expanded car park in the early evenings. Although some patrons had travelled from the home country independently, many confirmed they were on pre-arranged Chinese packages of one sort or another.

The 79 Adult Show, renamed from the suggestive 69 Adult Show pre-covid, is described as “bold” cabaret with luscious ladies and actors “without embarrassment” using artificial snakes, ropes and drums. The taking of photographs or videos inside is strictly banned with offenders warned they will be dealt with by in-house security personnel. Admission prices vary according to nationality from 1,000 baht (US$30) to double that for non-Asians. The Tourism Authority of Thailand expects up to 7 million Chinese visitors overall in 2023 with 250,000 expected at Thai resorts in April. That ambitious target will be dependent on how quickly zero-sum vacations get back on track.