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Pattaya Predictions 2013

January 4, 2013

It looks like Thailand and Pattaya begin the New Year with a load of official optimism. The government is predicting that the number of foreign arrivals into the kingdom as a whole in 2013 will shoot up to 23 million, a 10 percent surge at least, whilst Pattaya City Hall has named Pattaya as the “Thai Riviera”.  So what changes and surprises lie in store for our fair city?

Demographically, the number of tourists from traditional sources, in particular Western Europe and the United States, will continue to dip because of the continuing economic recession and the fall in the value of their currencies. But the numbers will be swelled by many more tourists from Russia and Asia, in particular from China where a recent poll found that only one percent of adult Chinese had visited Thailand already but that 50 percent would like to take the trip.

The property market in Pattaya will remain buoyant, especially new condominiums in the three- to six-million baht bracket, and many units will be sold to Thai buyers, the new aspiring middle class who either work on the Eastern Seaboard or wish to have a holiday home in the Pattaya area. Additionally, the opening of new industrial estates north and south of Pattaya will see the advent of many foreign managers who will opt for condominium purchases. It has been announced, for example, that 1,000 Japanese middle managers will arrive in the Laem Chabang port area and the Amata industrial parks in early 2013.

Pattaya, however, will remain very attractive for western European and American long-term expats as opposed to holidaymakers. For example, the Immigration Bureau has stated that the number of one-year retirement visas for the British in the Pattaya area is still going up and that there is an increasing trend for married foreign couples to choose the city as their principal home in their post-employment years. It is estimated that there are at least 50,000 foreigners in Pattaya and the surrounding area who are based here all of, or most of, the year.  That total includes work-permit holders and foreigners married to Thai spouses. This number is expected to triple within the next two years and will be positively affected by the advent of the ASEAN Economic Community, a free-trade area of 10 Asian nations, which is now scheduled to begin at the end of 2015.

There is, of course, a downside as Pattaya becomes more and more crowded and the roads become congested Bangkok-style. Although a number of projects are in the pipeline, none has actually started. A long-heralded, high-speed train service from the metropolis to Rayong, with two scheduled stops in Pattaya, has been postponed once again and now seems unlikely to be operational before the end of the decade.  A scheme to build underground traffic tunnels to ease the congestion on Sukhumvit Road has also been deferred for further research. It’s also true that such a venture would create yet more havoc on Sukhumvit whilst the engineering works were in progress for two years or more.

Other environmental schemes, such as improvements on Koh Larn and a beach reclamation project for Pattaya are going ahead but perhaps not on the scale originally promoted by DASTA (Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration), a government-backed body which foresaw an enormous public spending program in Pattaya to prepare for 30 million tourists spending 3 trillion baht annually within the next few years.  It now seems unlikely these ambitious targets can be met in their entirety, and there are other variables, such as continuing political instability in Thailand and threats of protests and street violence.

The other limiting factor for Pattaya in 2013 is tourist-related crime. In the last year several foreign embassies have expressed concern–specifically the Indian embassy on Jet-Ski scams and the Russians on handbag and jewelry snatching–and these concerns are likely to persist. The Jet Ski menace will continue until the sport is outlawed or until all operators are compulsorily insured against accidental damage.  On a separate front, businesses of all types should be required to have their CCTVs actually switched on. Too often they are said to be temporarily out of order.

Whilst a booming city like Pattaya is bound to have street crime, the police and the local authorities should rely less on publicity stunts–such as building watch towers along Beach Road which are rarely manned by a policeman with a pair of binoculars as claimed– and concentrate on measures which will actually work.  For example, it would be helpful for the police divisions (City, Tourist, Immigration, etc.) to pool their efforts in crime prevention and solution. At the moment, they operate separately in a very obvious fashion.  More use of volunteer and auxiliary police, under the direction of regular Thai officers, could also be useful in patrolling. For example, the Immigration Police recently started a night patrol in the Jomtien area and the Tourist Police stepped up their bike patrol functions. These are initiatives which could be built on with more across-the-board cooperation.

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