Many things make Pattaya stand apart from other places in Thailand, but it is perhaps its special administrative status that it enjoys that is one of the least known and is entirely unique. Its local administration status was first granted back in 1978. It meant that Pattaya was originally classed as a “special city”, although some of the rights granted were afforded to other cities in 2000.
Pattaya was awarded the additional autonomous powers as it, was and still is, viewed as one of Thailand’s primary resort cities. Pattaya was granted to special rules in to allow the city to maximise its potential with some nationwide rules not being viewed as appropriate to Pattaya and in some cases even damaging to tourism. City Hall could there implement some of their own laws while being granted exemptions from others. It has facilitated the growth and success of Pattaya for over four decades.
The majority of the rules that City Hall can implement are centred on the city’s famous entertainment industry. Restaurants, bars and nightclubs can remain open for longer as well as being able to serve alcohol at times when it is prohibited in other areas of the country. It is not just the entertainment industry where the mayor has the power to formulate policy; the mayor also has control of the overall management of the city, its public services along with controlling those employed by the City Hall. It allows for decisions to be formulated and implemented quickly and is more appropriate for the city’s evolving nature.
Meeting the rapidly changing needs and desires of the tourist industry are essential to ensure that Pattaya remains competitive. Demographics change as too do fashions and tastes, so this city must give visitors what they want. The city is almost unrecognisable from what it was a decade ago, and the fast decisions required wouldn’t have been able to be implemented had the city not been given independent status.
The special administrative status has undoubtedly made a massive contribution to Pattaya’s success and has only ever been challenged once since its implementation. The challenge came during the Coup d’état of 2014 when the military ruler took control of the whole country. Some would still argue that the central government, with the assistance of the military, still plays a more significant role now with regards to decision making than they did prior to the coup.
However, most decisions regarding public services and infrastructure are still made at a local level and have resulted in many problems being mitigated if not eliminated. Relatively recent examples would include the repairs to Pattaya Beach Road, efforts to reduce flooding in Central Pattaya as well as the road changes around the Terminal 21 shopping mall. The efforts to reduce flooding, which have been far from perfect, would have been hampered further had central government approval been required.
As Pattaya is an evolving city, it is essential that it has flexibility, and this is a contributory factor in making Pattaya more appealing. A decade or more ago, the majority of tourists came from Western Europe and the US. Nowadays, most tourists come from China, Russia and latterly India – a group that TAT and City Hall feel will bring new wealth and success to the city. Of course, all of these groups demand different things and their demands must be catered for.
Naturally, tourists benefit from the autonomous status, but in reality, the biggest beneficiaries are those living and working Pattaya. Any effort to increase the number of visitors to the city is welcome, as too is the work done to improve their overall experience when they are here. Pattaya has suffered a decline in some groups, which has had an adverse effect on bars and restaurants. It is a trend that needs to be reversed as it indirectly impacts on many of those living in the city. Infrastructure improvements have made Pattaya mover ever-closer to becoming a first-world city making it more appealing to families.
Although Thailand has become increasingly politically stable in recent years, it could be argued that Pattaya is even further distanced from any turmoil with internal squabbles having little impact on how the city runs on a day to day basis. Politically stability at any level will help to attract more tourists, greater overseas investment as well as making it a pleasanter place to live. All of these factors will contribute to the development of the area.
The real estate industry also benefit from the flexibility that the city has, and indeed many feel that focusing on the Indian market could provide a timely boost. Pattaya real estate has perhaps experienced a slightly stagnant period although developers are now becoming increasingly active again. Any increase in demand will create an environment for potential capital growth which will strike a chord with investors.
The enforcement of the rules relating to short-term rentals, those under 30 days, a large percentage of the rental market, has seen some investors suffer. Some local developers are now building condos that will include a hotel license and are indeed designed for investors to buy and lease short-term. Several of these properties come with attractive rental guarantees and are backed by some major hotel chains. The signs suggest that there is a feeling of confidence that City Hall not only has the power to react quickly but also has the competency to do so effectively.
Pattaya is certainly a unique city in many respects and, in many ways, is separate from the rest of Thailand in all but name. The special administrative status allows the city to respond quickly, which is essential if the city is to grow and to enjoy continued success. The benefits will be felt by locals, ex-pats, and tourists along with giving the much-needed boost to local businesses. Of course, the success of any special status is utterly dependent on how it is administered so City Hall should at least take some credit for recent achievements.