Lots of cash is being bumped into Pattaya, but it’s all long-term spending. Infrastructure improvements, hi-speed trains and a totally revamped U-Tapao airport are all well and good, but they don’t touch the problems of today. And now the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) has promised multi-billions more to build coach parks and improve pier facilities at Jomtien and on Koh Larn. There’s no shortage of future confidence in Pattaya, whatever the resort’s critics may say.
In the meantime, the world pandemic and local travel restrictions have all but decimated the foreign tourist industry in Pattaya. Weekends are the brighter spot as the government’s We Travel Together project, which offers Thai citizens subsidies and discounts on hotel bookings and domestic airfares, is certainly succeeding in bringing Thais here on non-work days and holidays. Discounts are also in the wind for foreign expats in a yet-to-be-announced scheme, although it might have been better to include them in the original scheme to avoid charges of double pricing.
Businesses in Pattaya have reacted in many different ways to the ongoing shortage of customers. Some closed last March and never reopened, including some of the biggest names in the Walking Street. Indian restaurants have been noticeably hit by closures and a number of eateries popular with the Brits have bitten the dust too. Some outlets have sought to reassure their customers and the well-known Robin’s Nest in Soi Diana offers an optimistic tone on its chalkboard notice.
Over half of Pattaya’s registered hotels are still closed, but there is a growing trend to try and attract what custom there is. The just-reopened Apex on Second Road is offering a specially-discounted room rate of 550 baht per night. A nearby hotel, which is still closed, is trying to raise some cash by offering its frontage as a car parking area. The notice in English states a standard fee of 100 baht, but the one in Thai suggests 50 baht for a short time. Double pricing even in adversity.
Even in sections of Soi Buakhao, the most popular area dominated by expats and visa amnesty beneficiaries, the bars are not busy. Discounts are the order of the day and cold bottled beers at 55 baht are becoming universal. Notices are often spellbinding. One bar offers you a chance to play with the staff, but there’s no need to become puritanical. The game in question is checkers. Or noughts and crosses if you are on the dense side. Meanwhile, the Hungry Hippo continues to dominate the eateries in that area of town with its neo-British menu and eye-catching value for money.
Other strategies are being tried too. Several tailor shops are now opening only in the evenings as foot traffic in the daytime is miniscule. Massage parlours often have discounted specials – two for the price of one – including the seldom-mentioned and controversial ear spa which devotees say removes wax whilst others say it is both ridiculous and dangerous. One bar in Jomtien is about to launch a twice-weekly music evening with karaoke and perhaps community singing. Special round-the-world-buffets offering cuisine from a dozen countries or more is a feature of several enterprising restaurants. However, one curiously has spaghetti in both the Italian and the Mexican pots.
The latest news is that the government is considering allowing both retirees on one year extensions of stay and foreigners who own a condo in their own name to fly back here provided they have a wad of documents and proof of insurance worth at least US$100,000. Phuket looks set to welcome limited charter flights provided the vacationers don’t mind spending their initial two weeks in quarantine which, however, does include the right to sit daily and quietly on the beach in a small marked-off box area. Tough luck if it’s raining.