Industry: New image for Pattaya a big ask
It is proving hard to shift Pattaya's image to a quality destination despite the government's crackdown on certain complaints and illegal businesses in the popular resort town, say hotel and tourism leaders.
The main problem for hotel operators is a glut of non-registered hotels and illegal businesses still offering cheap products and services to low-quality tourists, while big spenders prefer other destinations like Phuket, Koh Samui and Hua Hin.
The Thai Hotel Association (THA) and hotel operators have expressed concerns about the long-term image of Pattaya -- the most popular tourist destination on the Eastern Seaboard -- acknowledging the military government has attempted to crack down on negative images such as beach umbrellas, mundane activities and tourism scams.
However, they believe limiting these negative images would take time because of poor law enforcement and political power shifts on both the local and national level.
Supawan Tanomkieatipume, president of the THA, said rebuilding Pattaya's image from a "sin city" to a destination for everyone could take up to five years and requires determined law enforcement.
"Actually, Pattaya has long been a draw for many types of tourists, ranging from sex to family trips to business meetings, so it is really difficult to wipe out the inappropriate activities in a short period of time," Ms Supawan said.
The THA reported that Pattaya is the second-most popular tourist destination after Bangkok, beating Phuket in terms of arrivals. It is third for tourist income after Bangkok and Phuket because of lower average spending.
More than 2,100 buildings provide accommodation in the Pattaya market, representing 139,000 rooms. Of the figure, only 270 operators with a total of 40,000 rooms have registered as hotels.
In recent years more local and international chains entered the market including Hilton, Holiday Inn, InterContinental and Movenpick.
The peak year for Pattaya's tourist arrivals was 2013 with 12 million foreigners. Arrivals dropped below 10 million last year, but is expected to rebound this year thanks to tourists from Russia, India, Europe and South Korea. The Chinese have been the largest source market for a few years.
Sanphet Suphabuansathien, THA's eastern region president, said some negative aspects of Pattaya have been resolved in the last few years since central officials cracked down on pornography and illegal operators. Yet many issues still need to be improved, he said.
"Hotel and tourism operators in Pattaya are teaming up to promote new activities to overseas markets. We are offering sporting events, golf, theme parks and theatres. Longer stays and retired visitors are our main targets this year," Mr Sanphet said.
Chatchawal Supachayanont, former general manager at Dusit Thani Pattaya who serves as a board member for the THA eastern chapter, said Pattaya has a way of serving all types, from backpackers to families to business travellers. With a variety of tourism products and services, local and foreign visitors can enjoy their holidays here year-round, from bargain prices to costly packages, he said.
"It's really hard to shift to serve only the high-end market, clearing out all the cheap products from the market. Yes, Phuket, Koh Samui and Hua Hin can draw high-spenders and long-stay guests. Pattaya's mix of market segments took years to develop," Mr Chatchawal said.
He believes the expansion of U-tapao airport and Laem Chabang deep-sea port as well as the construction of a high-speed train project may not help draw the hordes of quality visitors the proponents envision because they may prefer to spend their holidays in other cities, avoiding the distractions.