From R- to G-rated
Life speaks with Pattaya Mayor Itthiphol Kunplome about his ambitious goal to change the image of 'Sin City' from a seedy nightlife hotspot to a family and sports destination
How will you deal with the increasing number of Chinese tourists?
We have volunteers who can speak the Chinese language at police stations and some information centres, as well as at our call centre service. We hold meetings with tour agents to inform them to advise their Chinese customers about Thai culture, cleanliness and environmental issues. In the big picture, the situation is going well, as Chinese tourists most often travel in a group with a fixed schedule and guides.
What are your plans to improve tourist safety?
Tourist safety is a top priority. We have implemented closed-circuit cameras and more lights along major streets and beach areas. We work with police divisions in Chon Buri and Pattaya City, as well as the tourist police and immigration police, to launch the Mr Care Khun (Care For You) volunteer group. It consists of policemen, and Thai and foreign volunteers, whose duty is to patrol crowded tourist areas to offer assistance. They have informal and friendly uniforms — a bright orange polo shirt and yellowish-brown shorts. We have about 400 volunteers who work around the clock. Since the project was kicked off last December, we have received positive feedback from tourists.
How have you attempted to solve the jet ski scam?
We have introduced a database system to register the names of all jet ski service operators in Pattaya. It can help reduce the numbers of scams. We will have a new law to force operators to have insurance for each rental jet ski. We work with the Marine Department, which already revised its ministerial regulations to change the status of a jet ski from sports equipment to a vehicle, so it can be eligible for first-class insurance. The Marine Department already submitted the revised regulation to the Judicial Office. We believe that the jet ski scam will be solved within the next two months.
How are you managing the mafia problem in Pattaya?
There is no mafia these days. I have been Pattaya mayor for the past seven years, and I believe that mafia's presence has disappeared from the city. Problems now tend to be business conflicts in which foreign brokers or agents have cheated people who are buying or selling property, land or condominium units. There are many court cases related to these kind of tricksters, and we have enforced the law to manage the problem.
Do you mean there is no mafia "officially"?
I truly confirm that there is no mafia. Some people may be afraid that they might come across the mafia while spending time in Pattaya. I am certain the mafia no longer exists. We recently held meetings with security forces and they gave the definition of mafia as people who attempt to extort money from others or local gangsters. These kind of people no longer exist in Pattaya, but I know it has had a negative impact on our tourism industry.
How are you managing coastal erosion?
We have worked with the Marine Department, which set aside 430 million baht to refill sand on all beaches in Pattaya. Work on the project will start soon. We have also asked for a sand refill at Jomtien Beach in Bang Saen. Within is and next year, you will see a lot of changes on our beaches.
What does Pattaya City do regarding the national beach clean-up campaign?
We have launched campaigns to control prices of beach chairs, umbrellas and food offered along our beaches. We also announced a "Big Cleaning Day" in January. Every Wednesday, all beaches in Pattaya must be clear of beach chairs and umbrellas. Service providers have been cooperating well. They have helped us pick up litter the beach. The "Big Cleaning Day" is not a temporary project; it is a city's regulation that will enforced from now on. We have also receive positive feedback from tourists, who tell us that our beaches now look more beautiful.
Can you give us an update on the progress of the Pattaya monorail project?
The project's blueprint has been completed. But construction will not kick off until the government approves the high-speed train linking Suvarnabhumi Airport to Pattaya. The monorail project will be worth the investment when it can link with the high-speed train. The project is in the city's development plan to solve traffic congestion in Pattaya in the long-term, perhaps within the next six years. For the three-year short-term plan, Pattaya will have bypass tunnels on Sukhumvit Road at Pattaya Klang and Pattaya Tai intersections. When the project is finished, the road will look like Ratchadaphisek Road in Bangkok.
Can you elaborate on the plan to promote Pattaya as a sports destination?
The Ministry of Tourism and Sports wants to promote Pattaya as a sports destination. The Sports Authority of Thailand will support a budget for us to build a sports complex this year. The complex can be used for hosting extreme sports events such as BMX and skateboarding competitions. We already hosted annual international golf and tennis tournaments at the beginning of this year and will organise other events, including the King's Cup Jet Ski World Cup Grand Prix, near the end of each year. Sports is one of the magnets that attracts tourists to Pattaya.
How much does the tourist industry generate in Pattaya?
We expect to have 75 billion to 80 billion baht from tourists this year. The figure is estimated by the average spending of one visitor per trip, at about 10,000 baht. On average, people spend about three days in Pattaya. We want them to stay longer, at least four nights. We plan to have a new tourism campaign and events to promote more attractions so they can stay with us longer. We will also launch Pattaya tourism packages with special discounts and recommended routes by Pattaya City Hall that introduce places to visit and dine, which lets our visitors enjoy more of Pattaya.
Can you recommend one place to visit in Pattaya?
I recommend Koh Lan. Its nature is as beautiful as Koh Chang and Koh Kut in Trat, but the island is not yet widely known among international tourists.
What is your favourite vacation destination?
I like the beach. If I have to choose other places rather than Pattaya, I would go to Koh Chang or Koh Kut. I also like making merits and paying respect to Buddha images at temples in Ayutthaya and visiting famous temples in Chachoengsao and Rayong.