Pattaya is one of five cities chosen by the coup-installed government to rebrand Thai tourism. According to the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, the Eastern Seaboard city is to be transformed into a world-class sports and family destination.
As regards the four other cities, Bangkok is to be rebranded a World Heritage River Cruise Destination, Nan will become a cyclist-friendly safe-town and haven for the elderly, whilst Phuket will specialize in premium cruises and conventions and exhibitions. Koh Phangan will continue to be a fun place for the young, full-moon parties included.
Visitor arrivals in Pattaya peaked in 2013 with more than 10 million people generating 100 billion baht from tourism-related activities. Overall numbers have declined since then by about 30 percent. Particularly hard-hit have been the Russian and European markets, although the decline has been offset to some extent by the continuing influx of Chinese tourists.
Turning Pattaya into a world-class sports destination is already an aim of the Pattaya City administration. The resort hosts annually the Singha Pattaya Open in tennis as well as the Bike Week Festival and the popular Pattaya Marathon. Last year it played host to the Women’s International Beach Volleyball Championship and has a selection of sports including golf, jet-skiing, yachting and car racing. At a more sedentary level there are chess facilities and, uniquely in Thailand, two international bridge clubs.
Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul said, “Pattaya stands out as a leader in water sports, hosting several competitions and training camps for national athletes. It is suitable to be developed further with its many facilities, top-class hotels and increasing family-orientated ethos.” She added that Pattaya had already changed public perceptions that it is merely a nighttime entertainment venue.
But some tourism experts say that what the city needs now is a planned sports future. Sanpech Supabowornsthian, president of the Thai Hotels Association Eastern Chapter, said, “In the past events have been organized on an ad hoc basis without any real planning or coordination between agencies. Now we are working on longer-term plans and intend to publish a calendar of forthcoming sports events at the beginning of each year.” He added that such a strategy would enable potential visitors to time their stay well-ahead with events they most enjoy.
City planners agree that better planning is the key to success. Some local destinations, such as Koh Larn, which receives 10,000 visitors daily, are already oversubscribed. Meanwhile, Pattaya itself is suffering from waste, pollution and traffic congestion. A spokeswoman for City Hall told Pattaya Today, “There are a number of infrastructure improvements underway which may take a year or two to complete and are currently causing some aggravation. But it is only through long term-strategies that we can ensure a sustainable flow of overseas and local visitors.”