Although the traditional high season may not be as clearly defined as it was a few years ago, the regular high season runs from the end of October until the end of April. Some would argue that in reality, it finishes in February with a reawakening for Songkran in the middle of April. Whatever your definition, official or otherwise, most people can agree roughly on the dates.
Pattaya has experienced some quieter periods in recent years, not only in the high season but throughout the year, which is probably the reason for this article. Whether numbers have dropped overall is debatable, but undoubtedly western numbers have been declining for the last few years. Chinese, Indian and Russian numbers are remaining relatively constant which has provided a lift for a lot, but certainly not all, businesses in Pattaya.
There are lots of reasons why Thailand and Pattaya has found things tough in recent years in terms of tourism and the numbers of expats living in the city. Firstly, the much publicise strength of the Thai Baht has made it difficult for many retirees relying on income from overseas to meet the visa requirements. It is compounded by other currencies such as Sterling performing badly making holidays outside of the UK expensive, Thailand included, which can account for, to some degree, fewer Brits coming over the last two or three years.
However, for all the arguments about a stronger currency, problems regarding visas, and any other excuse that will invariably get thrown up, Pattaya is still relatively cheap when you look at the overall picture. Long-term rental prices have remained relatively constant, with some even reducing in price and flights to and from Thailand are relatively inexpensive. It would suggest that the door is very much open for tourists to return in reasonable numbers for this coming high season. Will it happen? That is a tough one to give a definitive answer to, but the signs are potentially good.
December has always been a popular month, especially the Christmas and New Year periods with many people coming to the city from the UK, the US and Europe. These are people who tend to come for around a month. It seems almost unimaginable that these groups won’t come in their usual numbers this year as they have remained constant in even the most trying on circumstances over the last decade or so.
The fact that we get high numbers of Chinese and Russian visitors throughout the year blurs the lines in terms of the dates of the seasons. However, no one would argue that the demographics of Pattaya have changed. These groups are indeed the majority now with more and more things designed to cater to their desires and demands. These numbers will enhance the official figures of those coming to Pattaya although whether this is down to the high season or just that they want to visit the city is hard to say.
These groups might not be what all local businesses are clamouring for as often these groups are taken to specific destinations as a coach party rather than having the freedom to go where they want, but they bring money into Pattaya. It can be all too easy to view the high season as something that relates only to westerners; it doesn’t, it is Pattaya and everyone who visits the city, not just those from the west.
It is has been noticeable that the local developers are becoming more active again after a few had decided to mothball projects in previous years. The confidence suggests that they are expecting good high season in the forthcoming years and there is absolutely no reason why that can’t start this year. The Chinese are buying and investing, the Indians and Russians are doing likewise, so confidence in Pattaya overall seems to be relatively high.
There are lots of things to look forward to in the city, and the infrastructure improvements and the building of attractions aimed at families support this. Pattaya always has and always will be a city that is continually changing and evolving. What worked a decade ago, doesn’t work now but the city has adapted to accommodate this. It is why Pattaya continues to succeed and expand, regardless of high or low seasons.
The Thai government has long since said that the focus is on quality tourists rather than the quantity. Regardless of if you agree with this approach or not, the quality of the product in Pattaya has improved. If we look at restaurants and bars, underperforming venues have fallen by the wayside and been replaced by better ones. The better places still do well and welcome large numbers of visitors every week. The better product is likely to encourage people to come and return so this can only be a good thing.
We frequently see on popular ex-pat forums that Cambodia and Vietnam are the places that we should be going. On the one hand, you can understand the rationale, but this is for people that want to visit “what Thailand used to be like”, and therein is perhaps the problem. Thailand has moved forward and left that period behind. Maybe the new visitors for the high season like Thailand as it is now and don’t want to visit a country or city “back in the good old days”.
Could Pattaya benefit from the lower expectations for this year’s high season? It could be argued that failures or disappointments in previous years have been down to unrealistic expectations and chasing the unattainable. Lower expectations may allow some businesses to regroup and build firm foundations that could lead to a brighter and more prosperous future for the city.
To conclude, on the face of it, the high-season will almost certainly be better than in recent years for many businesses. It may be down to reduced competition, or it could be due to more people coming. There is no genuine reason for the tourists not to return in numbers, times change, and that is inevitable, but we should embrace the “new” Pattaya and the future rather than look back how things used to be – all too often through rose-tinted glasses.