For the few still holding out hope, it’s now official: Pattaya is not reopening to foreign tourists Sept. 1.
In truth, it never was. No matter how much Mayor Sonthaya Kunplome and tourism-industry associations talked up the “Pattaya Move On” plan, Sept. 1 was never a realistic date and the plan was never approved by anyone.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand – which, in fact, can’t open a noodle stand on its own, let alone a city – said Aug. 10 there was no way Pattaya could start welcoming fully vaccinated foreigners in three weeks and wouldn’t even predict when Pattaya will be.
Pattaya Mayor Sonthaya Kunplome, however, admitted defeat, saying that, without TAT’s backing, Pattaya cannot continue to lobby for reopening.
Pattaya is not alone. TAT also pulled its support for reopening of Hua Hin.
No one in the central government ever considered reopening Pattaya Sept. 1. The original timetable laid out by the Tourism and Sports Ministry was Oct. 1, and even that proposal was never sent to the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration.
It was Sonthaya and business leaders who moved up the date by a month, revising their original “Move On” plan and sending it to Chonburi Province last month for approval. Chonburi’s governor slipped the plan into a drawer and forgot it.
Reporting 200-300 new coronavirus cases a day, Pattaya is nowhere close to reopening. All available beds at Banglamung Hospital are taken. Field hospitals are full and even closed hotels converted into “hospitels” are fully booked after just two weeks of opening.
Nearly every business in the city is closed. Thousands of people a day are waiting in line at Bali Hai Pier for food handouts and Pattaya’s entire hotel sector has shut down. There’s no indication any of that would, or could, change in 21 days.
What exactly would tourists arriving in September do anyway? Beaches are closed. The city is under curfew from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. and residents are told to stay home during the day unless absolutely necessary. Restaurants can open for takeout and delivery only. Bars and pubs are shut, and alcohol is available only during limited hours from convenience stores and supermarkets that must close by 8 p.m.
More than the daily case totals, the biggest factor preventing Pattaya from reopening is the small percentage of locals vaccinated against Covid-19. And the blame for that – and the fact the city cannot restart its life-giving tourism engine – is the central government and its incompetent approach to procuring and distributing effective vaccines.
Pattaya requires about 950,000 doses of vaccine in order to inoculate 70 percent of the population. To date it has received fewer than 100,000. Nearly all of the government’s scarce supply of vaccines have gone to metropolitan Bangkok, even though Chonburi this month has been the second epicenter of the country’s coronavirus epidemic.
The government has abandoned and neglected Pattaya to the point that the city has spent 88 million baht of its own budget to buy 100,000 doses of vaccine made by China’s state-run Sinopharm. Those doses will start to go into Pattaya arms later this month.
Sonthaya said that while a Sept. 1 reopening is now officially off the table, city hall and business groups are still working on a plan to welcome back tourists once the virus situation improves.
“We expect within the next two years, the economy will return to 2019 levels in which we were the 19th most visited city in the world and welcomed 10 million foreign tourists and roughly 7 million domestic tourists,” the mayor said.
“However, until we can get the Covid-19 situation under control things will be difficult. We hope to be able to open our local economy at least for local residents and domestic tourists by the fourth quarter, but even that is not something we can promise.”