The second wave of the COVID-19 arrived in Thailand around the New Year and was mainly attributed to migrants entering the country illegally from Myanmar. The epicenter of the outbreak was in Samut Sakhon, close to Bangkok. The area was placed in an immediate lockdown which was later extended to other provinces of the country as further cases were detected. One of the areas to be placed in lockdown was Chonburi, which, of course, covers Pattaya.
While another lockdown seemed inevitable as the number of cases rose, the consequences have again had a devastating impact on the city’s economy, one that relies on tourism. Although foreign tourists have been few in numbers, domestic tourism was starting to flourish in the last couple of months of 2020 with many people looking to take advantage of some of the available offers. Several businesses were beginning to report an upturn in business, and while it was only a fraction of what they had previously enjoyed, it was viewed as a start. Optimism was starting to grow, and everyone thought that the end was in sight.
However, at the start of February 2021, we find ourselves in the same position as we were in during the second quarter of 2020. Bars are closed, many restaurants, although allowed to open aren’t because it is not commercially viable and everyone is feeling the knock-on effect. Even some of the major hotels such as D-Varee in Jomtien and the Centara Grand Mirage in Wongamat have temporarily closed their doors. However, the latter is using it as an opportunity to carry out a refurbishment. On the face of it, things once again look bleak, but is that really the case?
In the short-term, it is impossible not to class the current situation as disastrous with businesses that had previously been struggling but surviving; now questioning whether everything is worthwhile. The critical point is that many things are closed “temporarily”, but is it temporary, or are some of these places going to disappear from Pattaya’s map permanently? The problem will be if some of the major attractions such as Tiffany’s fail to re-open, or a big player currently open goes bust. If the status quo can remain when things start to re-open, then in two to three years, the second wave will be viewed as a blip and not a catastrophe.
In recent months, we have mentioned in several articles that COVID-19 may just be cutting the wheat from the chaff and that as the strongest will survive and prosper, it will be beneficial for everyone. However, if some of the popular smaller businesses, such as was the case with Pattaya’s oldest bar, the Tahitian Queen close down, the city will lose its character. Yes, we know that Pattaya is always evolving, but this is usually by choice and over years rather than months. The coronavirus is undoubtedly the biggest test the city has ever experienced, but that is the same everywhere.
How long the lockdown stays in place, if there are changes to quarantine rules, and how quickly the vaccine can be rolled out globally will greatly impact the future. However, many of these points are valid for other countries and resorts around the world. Unfortunately, local business owners, perhaps even City Hall and TAT, will have little say on these matters and it will be left to the government. How much they value tourism will probably be the determining factor, and many are skeptical about this.
In reality, we know that Thailand needs tourism; it accounts for around 20% of the country’s GDP in “normal” years. The real question will be when is the right time to re-open the borders? It will need to be a balance of public health and economic survival as the reality in Pattaya is that more people will die of poverty and problems related to poverty than COVID-19. This is not the case in other countries, so opening everything up like before, may upset the applecart and destroy everything for years rather than months to come.
Once again, in previous articles, we have said that Pattaya is ready and waiting for the tourists to return. However, the longer it takes for their return, the less there will be for them to return to. Businesses are closing every day, and if the city isn’t careful when global travel returns, people may choose alternative destinations as “there is more to do”. Of course, this is the worst-case scenario, but it needs to be considered. The decline needs to be halted, and the city needs to start rebuilding again, something that we know it is more than capable of doing.
If we assume that things slowly start to open up again in a couple of months, perhaps we may even have some form of Songkran this year, then things look brighter. Although skeptics may argue otherwise, there are people just waiting to come back to Pattaya, which bodes well. Most of Pattaya’s tourists come from China and India, and these groups will probably return long before we see swathes of people coming from Europe, the US, and Australia, but the green shoots will be starting to show.
Pattaya does have everything that tourists want. It has the weather, infrastructure, numerous activities and is safe and still relatively inexpensive. Let’s all hope that the new coronavirus outbreak is a blip and that we start to see some form of normality return. OK, we won’t see tourist figures as we experienced in 2019 for a couple of years, but Pattaya will go from strength to strength as long as things are improving.
When tourists return, we all hope that the greed that was perhaps starting to creep into some areas has gone. Taking people, their business, and their money for granted is always a dangerous game, and we hope that is now appreciated. Perhaps the “live for today” attitude needs to be reined in just a little and diluted with some planning for the future. That way we will get Pattaya back to where we want it to be, and this time it will be more sustainable for all.