Arrivals in Pattaya go limp
Rouble devaluation hits tourist mecca hard
Pattaya may miss its tourist arrival projection by 1 million this year largely because of cash-strapped Russians retreating, the Erawan Shrine bombing and the mid-September flooding on the eastern coast.
The Thai resort, one of the world's most-renowned tourist hotspots, is likely to finish the year with 9 million visitors, 1 million fewer than projected and 1.2 million below last year's 10.2 million.
Addressing the state of Pattaya's tourism industry, Pattaya mayor Ittipol Khunpluem said next year's outlook was brighter with arrivals expected to grow by 12-13% growth over this year's level.
Pattaya's tourism earnings this year are estimated to slip to around 80 billion baht, down from 92 billion last year, in line with the drop in visitors. Some 60-70% of visitors are foreigners and the rest locals, said Mr Ittipol.
Pattaya, like several other destinations popular with Russian visitors, is feeling the impact of the plunge in Russian outbound travellers who are hit by a depreciating rouble coupled with an economic crisis at home. The rouble has lost up to 30% of its value against the Thai baht.
There is no sign Russian tourists will recover, but the Chinese have picked up the slack, fuelling recent tourism growth in the area.
From 2010 until the rouble depreciation, Russian tourists to Pattaya averaged annual increases of 45%, while Chinese tourists rose 41% per year the past two years there, said Suladda Sarutilavan, director of Tourism Authority of Thailand's Pattaya office.
Chinese tourists have proved the saviour of Pattaya with their continued streams.
However, speaking at the OTDYKH-Leisure show in Moscow recently, Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul expressed confidence that arrivals from Russia would reach nearly 1 million this year. That is a drop from 1.6 million recorded last year.
For the first six months this year, Russian arrivals totalled 506,071.
Mr Ittipol noted that no-frills carrier AirAsia's move to establish a flight network out of Navy-operated U-tapao airport in Rayong would be a major contributor to drive arrivals to Pattaya next year, making the resort more easily accessible to foreign tourists.
Rear Adm Vasinsan Chantavarin, U-tapao airport's director, said its passenger throughput is expected to double from last year's level to 240,000-250,000 because of the introduction of scheduled flights by AirAsia.
By the end of November this year, AirAsia is to operate six routes out of U-tapao to domestic and international destinations including Singapore, Macau, Nanning, Nanchang, Kuala Lumpur and Udon Thani.
AirAsia Malaysia made its debut at U-tapao on July 15 with the launch of regular flights from Kuala Lumpur, triggering a traffic flow unseen at the airfield since it was handed over to the Thai Navy by the US in August 1966.
Rear Adm Vasinsan said AirAsia would route up to 1 million passengers through U-tapao next year, with the airline ramping up the airport's annual passenger throughput to 3 million over the next few years.
Thai AirAsia chief executive Tassapon Bijleveld said the airline was considering adding one to two international routes and two to three domestic routes from U-tapao.