With bars shut, tourists virtually locked out and people scared to leave their homes, Pattaya feels more like the sleepy fishing village of 50 years ago than the reputed no-holds-barred party city.
The beaches are empty. Walking Street is a ghost town. Bar streets like Soi 6 are shuttered. It’s both a reflect of government social-distancing orders and immigration regulations that are banning tourists without health certificates and hefty health insurance minimums and often quarantining those who do get through.
Thailand, like many other tourist destinations, takes a big hit during crises like SARS, political unrest and natural disasters but the coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented. The economic meltdown that began in January has put most in the tourism and entertainment industries out of work, with no end in sight.
It’s easy to blame what has happened in Thailand upon its reliance on China, but not accurate. The pandemic is worldwide.
With the Chinese, it began when the Thailand lowered visa barriers more than decade ago. Chinese tourism grew and Pattaya’s hospitality industry developed tunnel vision, focusing on the Chinese and largely neglecting visitors from other nations. With one in three international visitors coming from the mainland, entire business sectors were infected with the China Syndrome.
Of course, it all came crashing down in January when Beijing banned all overseas tours to control the spread of Covid-19. Tourism slowed dramatically and businesses that put all their eggs in the Chinese basket saw them all break.
But events have moved on and Pattaya now isn’t drawing tourists from anywhere, not just China.
The government has promised financial aid and subsidies to the tourism industry, but it will take months if not years to recover. Many of the bars, pubs, entertainment venues, boxing stadiums, theme parks, restaurants, markets may never reopen.
Sompong Patibatsunthorn, a vendor at the Thepprasit Kheha Weekend Market, had to pack up and move out of his stall Saturday. He couldn’t pay the rent.
He tried to stick it out for eight weeks, Sompong said, but there simply weren’t enough people coming to the market. And he said he’s not alone.
“We had the choice of giving up the deposit or staying there with no business,” he said. Now he has to decide whether to stay in Pattaya, as the government is urging, or return to his home province and farm chickens.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand was pinning hopes on domestic tourists, but with authorities advising against traveling and nothing to do in Pattaya, chances of Thais keeping Pattaya afloat are dim.
The fact is no one knows what the future holds, even more so when an incurable virus is circling the globe.