The virus pandemic has certainly turned up the heat on what Pattaya will look like in two or five years from now. Projections range from the ghost city scenario to an upmarket business center to rival Miami in the United States. Here are the choices.
The Zombie Apocalypse
This ultra-pessimistic view, much loved by some keyboard warriors, assumes that Pattaya’s tourist collapse is permanent as the coronavirus ravage will go on and on. The only people remaining will be a zombie crowd of bored expats who can’t find anything to do now that alcohol has been closed off as an avenue of communal pleasure. A variation on this theme is the ghost city future in which padlocks, crumbling edifices and pneumatic drills become the new normal throughout Pattaya and Jomtien.
The Good Old Days
An alternative prediction, also popular on social media, is that Pattaya is good only for one thing – selling sex – which will return once the virus decides to call it a day and the bars and clubs reopen. The trouble with this view is that sex tourism had already declined substantially as a Pattaya income earner even before the pandemic struck. The newer generation of tourists, mostly from China and India, preferred to buy whiskey at the 7/11 stores on the Walking Street rather than to pay exorbitant prices to see chrome pole dancers shuffling their feet onstage with bored indifference.
Only for the Rich
The Tourist Authority of Thailand argues that Thailand can find at least one million new expats who will benefit the Thai treasury by billions in any currency. Ideas include allowing foreigners to buy freehold property in selected estates (including Pattaya) and removal of immigration restrictions for Elite card holders and well-heeled digital nomads. There’s even the suggestion of permanent residency for foreign investors who keep on signing cheques. But none of these initiatives have yet surfaced – except the four-year Smart visa which does not require a work permit – and it is far from clear how many of these wealthy foreign guys and gals are actually out there.
The Chinese Takeover
This issue first surfaced 10 years ago as hundreds of Chinese tour buses clogged the main roads by day and parked by night near the new-generation of glitzy cabarets on Pattaya’s Thepprasit Road. During the pandemic, the worries have increased as new reports reveal that most foreign-bought Pattaya condominiums are purchased by Chinese investors who are now also looking to buy local hotels which can’t repay their loans during the recession. However, travel gurus doubt that zero-sum tours will resume on the scale they once were, whilst real estate agencies report a falling-off of interest by Chinese investors.
The Satellite City
The last prediction is that Pattaya will transform itself into a new international business and family-orientated leisure resort, backed by the investment privileges afforded by the internationally-funded Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC). Supporters of this vision point to developments such as new motorways, the Bali Hai pier renovation and the projected hi-speed railway linking the Eastern Seaboard with Bangkok. In due course, neo or new Pattaya will become a satellite division of the metropolis. But critics say that the EEC may not attract the necessary funds in future, whilst Pattaya infrastructure (especially flooding and roads) remains inadequate to qualify for high status.
There is some truth in all the propositions. Pattaya is going to have empty commercial and residential properties on a large scale for many years. The nitery scene will survive on a less robust scale, but will become more expensive and be based in outer city areas. Thailand could attract some big international spenders and investors via investment and immigration perks, but whether they will choose Pattaya as a permanent base is a moot point. Chinese influence in Pattaya will grow, but not necessarily evenly, whilst the satellite city model is likely too ambitious in the near term. Post pandemic, Pattaya will continue to change and adapt over the years. But you can forget about a new Miami any time soon.