Pattaya officials, councillors and authority figures attended an important meeting at City Hall on Wednesday 17th June to discuss plans and ideas to revive Pattaya tourism. The Deputy Mayor of Pattaya, Ronnakit Aegasing, chaired the meeting.
They talked about the drop in tourist numbers and gave suggestions on how to get ready for high season later this year. Pattaya City Hall organise many events that attract Thai and foreign visitors. The real drop in tourist numbers is with foreigners, especially Russians.
The NIDA Institute are studying tourist numbers and nationalities of visitors to Pattaya and will produce a three year development plan, which includes updating tourist attractions, creating new projects and working closely with other authorities in the whole of the Eastern Seaboard Area.
You only have to visit any tourist attraction or night life hotspot to see that tourist numbers are down in Pattaya. There are many factors that have contributed to this decline over the last year or so. Number one was the crash of the Ruble. When the Russian currency halved in value it wasn’t long before the numbers of Russian tourists began to drop off in Thailand. Many hundreds of thousands had visited Pattaya over the last 5 years and they had become the number 2 foreign visitor entering Thailand via Suvarnibhumi International Airport, number one is still Chinese visitors.
The amount of Russian visitors to Pattaya will not pick up noticeably until the Ruble recovers.
Currently 1 Ruble can be exchanged for around 0.64 Baht, which is an increase in value compared to the beginning of this year, but still over 30% down in value compared to last year. The figures speak for themselves, there were 46% fewer Russian arrivals in Thailand in January 2015 than the year before: 145,605 this year versus 269,479 in January 2014. Russian visitor numbers have dropped even lower since then as many had pre booked their holiday to the Kingdom way in advance when 1 Ruble was virtually on parity with the Baht.
The crash of the Ruble not only caused the drastic decline in Russian visitors to Pattaya, but has also severely damaged the Pattaya property market. According to the Bangkok Post in 2013 Russian property purchases in Pattaya accounted for 19% of all Thailand real estate sales, and about 65% of those were to Russians. (It was also noted that at least 50% of Russian visitors to Thailand at least spent some time in Pattaya.)
5 out of 6 top Russian Travel Agents have gone out of business since the crash, so even if the ruble recovered tomorrow it will take time for Russian tourist numbers to reach the levels seen in Thailand in 2013.
What about Chinese visitor numbers?
Word around town is that touristic companies, local authorities and condominium developers in particular are all focusing on the Chinese market. But have numbers of Chinese visitors increased? And where do they spend their money?
Numbers of Chinese visitors to Pattaya or on the up, but they tend to travel in large groups to pre-organised attractions, sightseeing tours and large open plan traditional restaurants. This is Similar to how Russian tours were operating, but the Russians are more adventurous and certainly don’t follow a guy with a flag!
If you see Chinese tourists on Walking Street, they are akin to a human train being driven down the track by the guy in front holding the flag. They take pictures and spend little time and money there before returning to their coaches. So the Walking Street bar scene isn’t currently benefitting too much from any increase in Chinese tourist numbers. Other attractions, such as The Floating Market, Nong Nooch Gardens, the Crocodile farm and Lady Boy shows are seeing many coach loads of Chinese visitors, but they have also been hit hard by the lack of Russian visitors.
Other visitor nationalities are also down in number. Europeans experienced at least a 20% reduction in value of the Euro and Pound earlier this year as the Baht grew stronger, but today 1 pound can be exchanged for just over 53 Baht, and 1 Euro just over 38 Baht, which is good news for the tourist. The US currency is also fairly strong with a rate of just under 34 Baht per dollar.
There is also the potential to attract more Indian visitors. When Indians start to invest in property more in Pattaya, there will be an increase in visitors for sure. This will hopefully attract those with money who don’t want to barter over the cost of a taking a girl out for the night!
There is of course one other main factor that has affected tourism in Pattaya. In May 2014 there was a military coup followed by the General in charge becoming Prime Minister and a change of government. This was undertaken to create political and social stability in Thailand. Many news reports around the world showed clips of tanks on the streets of Bangkok and portrayed a very bleak picture. The fact was if you were here in Pattaya, and most of Thailand, it was business as usual after a short period of night time curfews.
In conclusion, if the Chinese market is to be fully exploited then the focus for the Pattaya authorities is to work with tourist agencies, large budget hotels, restaurants and to create new attractions that the Chinese want to go to. The Russian market will take several years to recover at least and people will go hungry if they wait for that! European markets will also slowly recover, but will always be eclipsed by the number of Asian visitors to the Kingdom, especially with the new ASEAN agreement allowing easier visa arrangements for many South East Asian visitors.
There is one thing that could very easily make Thailand’s tourism boom once again and that is if casinos are legalised and Pattaya becomes the first Thai city have a casino strip. This is a very controversial issue for the Thai people as gambling is currently illegal in the Kingdom, but is currently big news… Watch this space!