It seems as though the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated what might well have been the writing on the wall for “old-style Pattaya”. Once a sleepy little fishing village in the 1960s, it grew into “Sin City” due to its popularity with thousands of American GIs showing up from Vietnam for some R&R.
It led to the creation of one of the largest red-light districts in the world with Pattaya continuing to be a popular destination for single men and many a divorcee.
The virus soon put paid to gogo clubs and bar complexes many having been forced to close due to lack of business. Those that made little or no profit from sales of beers alone were already suffering from a disappointing 2019 when the strong baht resulted in less available spend for visitors and ex-pats on a budget.
Heading towards the end of 2020 with no slowing the virus yet in sight, it very much seems that “old-style Pattaya” will never return – but what you might ask will replace it? Optimists who see the city’s resilience and ability to adapt to market pressure think it will become a new location for family tourism. Some developers are willing to invest in this idea with exciting new projects.
For example, Marriott International, Inc. has signed agreements with Asset World Corporation (AWC) to build JW Marriott The Pattaya Beach Resort & Spa and the Pattaya Marriott Marquis Hotel. Both of these projects are aiming for a more sophisticated tourist with the hope that the hotels will form in their own words: ‘Absolute Center of Pattaya – The Place To Be’.
Mrs Wallapa Traisorat, CEO and President of AWC, said: “We are confident in the long-term positive outlook of Thai tourism. The opportunity of the Thai tourism industry to expand its tourist base to the wellness and long-stay segments as well as to attract discerning and sophisticated travellers from around the world.”
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August 2020 saw the signing of agreements to introduce yet further global brand hotels. They are also hoping to attract a new wave of international business and leisure travellers they wish to raise the bar with attractions such as Aquatique The Beachfront Pattaya. It is set to be the “Ultimate All-in-one Seaside destination” right on Pattaya’s beachfront. It will incorporate a hotel, shopping mall, theme park, and an underground aquarium. Hailed to be the first mixed-use destination concept of its kind in Pattaya, the developers are hoping it will aid the “new Pattaya” in becoming a premier lifestyle and tourism hub.
Further activity in September 2020 saw the approval of the proposal for a 2.9 billion baht mega-development at the Cape Bali Hai area of Pattaya with a public hearing. Pattaya’s Deputy mayor Ronnakit Ekasingh chaired the meeting which was attended by around 300 representatives from both government agencies and the private sector. Mr Ronnakit was reported as saying that this pier development would help support the local tourism industry and protect people’s livelihoods in line with the government’s Eastern Economic Corridor plans. These plans include the link with U-Tapao international airport via a high-speed train line and the new commercial seaport.
The Bali Hai area proposal also includes a terminal for cruise ships at the tip of the cape, a two-story administration building, and a recreation area covering about 15-rai. It will then allow for the waterfront to expand and additional structures to be built such as a second boat pier, department store, skywalk, and passenger terminal for the planned light electric train. Nearby Walking street would also benefit from a new 38,000-square-metre commercial area designed to provide new tourist attractions. All these proposals need to be presented to the cabinet for approval.
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Another Pattaya project awaiting cabinet approval is the construction of a monorail line through the city area. Pongtawee Lertpanyawit, who is in charge of the feasibility study, said that work could begin in 2023 with the 9-kilometre-long line operational by 2027. A recent opinion poll found that 80% of the city’s residents favoured this idea in preference to those for a tram or underground train.
The planned monorail would ease congestion in the city and link with the high-speed train line built between Don Mueang and U-Tapao airports. Construction is estimated at 26 billion baht, with the route terminating at Bali Hai pier. However, on September 5th, Pattaya News reported that the CP Group (Charoen Pokphand) had suggested the Pattaya Monorail station be moved from Pattaya City to Huay Yai. In answer to this Pattaya’s Mayor Sonthaya Khunpluem said that it would not affect the project as a whole as in theory it would allow for even easier connections with its relocation nearer the expressway line 7, Section 7 of Banglamung district.
If restrictions of tourists coming into Thailand persist the best piece of infrastructure for Pattaya’s rebranding and repositioning will be the high-speed train line. A massive new rail hub in Bangkok’s Bang Sue area is set to open sometime in 2021 replacing the 103-year-old Hualamphong Station. It could then additionally serve passengers using HSR once completed. Residents of Bangkok and Pattaya would then enjoy a 45-minute Bullet train commute. It would mean that there would be increased visits by Bangkokians to Pattaya enjoying the area’s beachside facilities and the new lifestyle and tourist attractions planned for the city.
Also, as with many other congested city centres, the time difference for travelling between Bangkok and Pattaya would be quicker to travel from home in Pattaya to an office in Bangkok rather than live on the outskirts of the city and traverse one side to the other by car. It could also allow people to work remotely part of the week, merely going into Bangkok as and when required to visit the office or hold meetings there.
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