It is rather obvious that Central Pattaya is suffering the most during the current pandemic as you travel through the city. The lack of residential property in the area or any long term expats living nearby does not give it a local customer base compared to other places in the city and the surrounding areas. In Central Pattaya, you will see many businesses closed permanently, due in no small part to the high cost of renting the properties in this previously sought after location and because with a lack of locals, there is absolutely no passing trade.
Making your way through the city centre depicts a gloomy picture and does not leave much room for optimism, so what does the future hold for Central Pattaya? Will City Hall reinvent and reinvigorate the area, or will it be left as a doomed tourist zone?
The first thing to consider is that there is still new investment coming into this part of the city. For example, the Sansiri condominium in the centre has a new high-rise project called The Edge. It is due for completion in 2022 is now almost 100 % sold out at prices that are the highest per square metre ever seen in Pattaya; only superseded by another new Pattaya project, Arom, located on Wongamat beachfront in North Pattaya. Other developments may only become apparent when things return to normal. For example, a proposed high-end shopping and hotel project by the Asiatique group on the extensive vacant land next to the Hard Rock Hotel is still expected to go ahead.
There are also many projects in addition to Arom being built in other parts of Pattaya. However, these condominiums are far less attractive to potential buyers if the city’s centre remains a deserted ghost town. Therefore, the developers and Pattaya City Hall must do everything they can to ensure that the current demise of Pattaya is just a temporary state of affairs.
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Central Pattaya is heavily dependent on the short-term tourist who usually stays in hotels in the area. With a lack of overseas visitors, the business community has been hit the hardest, and it looks like it may take the longest to recover. Let’s not forget that Pattaya had over ten million visitors in 2019, the last full year of figures available before the Covid-19 pandemic started to cause havoc around the world. It is a significant figure representing 25% of the total number of visitors to Thailand that year. If Pattaya recovers to half those numbers, it will be a promising improvement.
Another point to consider is that the ongoing colossal investment in the Eastern Economic Corridor, or EEC, stretches to hundreds of billions of Baht. Therefore, it would be a strange decision to improve the infrastructure and leave the city centre that would be the beating heart of the project to fade away. Also, there are talks of a city centre monorail or tram project that would help with the area’s rejuvenation.
And what of the domestic tourism market? Pattaya is about a two-hour drive from central Bangkok and will be just under an hour when the high-speed rail link is due to open in 2025. Also, it seems reasonable to expect that by the time this happens, Pattaya will be a thriving city for the Bangkok weekend crowd to stay at once they get here. It is difficult to imagine that a city centre with thousands of hotels, restaurants, world-class shopping malls, and numerous other attractions so close to both the beaches and the capital would lie dormant long term.
Both financially and logistically, it makes no sense to exclude Central Pattaya from the regeneration programme that the rest of the city and surrounding areas will undergo after the pandemic recedes. Of course, there will be casualties, but the major hotels, shopping malls and popular establishments will stand their ground. Once they reopen fully and regain their power of attraction, more traffic, more footfall, and more spending should follow. There will then be new opportunities for investors and new businesses to enjoy as long as the local authorities continue improving road conditions, traffic control, and flood control measures.
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Central Pattaya may be a sorry sight now, and the hundreds of businesses that will inevitably fall by the wayside deserve a great deal of sympathy for being the unlucky ones caught in the middle of this dreadful pandemic. But, we all know, the misfortune of some will lead to opportunities for others, and the city will move on. The slack will be taken up not just by more prominent operators but also by the smaller businessmen, the entrepreneurs willing to invest time and money in New Pattaya.
The only businesses that may not return are the hundreds of open bars spread throughout the city centre. It would seem logical that certain designated areas allocated for the nightlife attractions, following a model that most other major destinations worldwide have used. Also, the land where these vast bar complexes currently stand will soon become too valuable for them and too enticing for more prominent investors in the area to want to move into.
The city centre was the hardest hit in this crisis and will be the last to recover, but recover it must. It is too vital to the plans for the Eastern Seaboard and cannot be ignored. Let’s hope its recovery starts soon once the world’s vaccination programmes lead to unlocking global tourism.