Pattaya operators gloomy on foreign arrival figures
Pattaya's reopening scheme for vaccinated foreign visitors has been selected as the pilot project for non-island provinces, but operators predict demand in the first few months will be patchy as a flip-flop on regulations may derail holiday plans in Thailand.
"The early stages of reopening will not attract many leisure tourists as it's low season here and some are unsure about inconsistent regulations. We should observe the Phuket sandbox," said Thanet Supornsahasrungsi, acting president of the Chon Buri Tourism Council.
"The market in the beginning is more likely to be business travellers or Thai returnees who want to skip mandatory quarantine in the capital, opting for a more relaxed location."
Thailand could lose out to other countries that have no restrictions for vaccinated tourists, such as Turkey and Egypt, if Thailand maintains strict rules until the fourth quarter, he said.
The number of international arrivals to Pattaya is estimated at only 30,000-40,000 from August to October, which is the initial period when the area is welcoming back foreigners.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) wants to establish the Pattaya scheme as the pilot project for non-island provinces welcoming back inoculated foreigners without quarantine, after the TAT finalises the protocol for Phuket later this month.
Mr Thanet said any amount of tourists would be a relief after the pandemic slashed tourism receipts to 68 billion baht last year from a record high of 276 billion in 2019.
Roughly 1,000 hotels were operating on the Eastern Seaboard in the pre-pandemic period, but the third wave has left only 20% of them open for business, reporting low occupancy of around 10% during weekdays, said Phisut Saekhu, president of the Thai Hotels Association's Eastern Chapter.
The poor performance was reflected by the gross provincial product for Chon Buri the first two months this year, which saw contributions from the service sector plunge 94.2%.
Thitipat Siranutsrikul, president of the Association of Chonburi Attractions, said of the 53 attractions in Pattaya, only 12-15 still operate and most of them are state-run. Many private attractions could not survive and closed temporarily.
"Those that are still open, such as Nongnooch Garden and Alcazar Cabaret Show, have prepared to take part in the reopening scheme as the international market contributes around 80% of our revenue. We suffered a lot without them in the past year," she said.
Chairat Rattanopas, president of the Eastern Spa and Wellness Association, said the reopening scheme should start gaining the momentum in the fourth quarter, mainly with the long-haul market.
"Conditions have to be met to start reopening properly, including mass inoculations for 450,000 people in Bang Lamung and Sattahip districts, the pilot area for the sealed route and sealed area," he said.
"Tourists must travel to designated places escorted by operators in the early stages as health and safety remain a priority."