Pattaya eyes reopening
Curbs stricter than for island spots
The lessons learned from Phuket which has led the way in reopening to foreign visitors since July 1, followed by Samui Plus two weeks later, have encouraged Pattaya to follow in their footsteps.
Pattaya is part of the mainland, unlike Phuket and Samui which are islands and so easier to isolate. That means the "Pattaya Move On (PMO)" initiative has had to come up with stricter conditions for tourists.
While they are looking forward to welcoming international holidaymakers, challenges remain. The Bangkok Post spoke to the business community and local administration about the reopening process and the outlook for tourism's economic recovery.
Not quarantine-free travel
Rattanachai Suttidechanai, Vice Chairman of the Pattaya Business & Tourism Association, said provincial standard operating procedures (SOPs) including guidelines for inbound tourists are complete.
Unlike Phuket's SOPs in which foreign tourists are allowed to roam the island upon arrival, even though they have to stay on the island for 14 days before departing to other provinces, the SOPs for Pattaya will require visitors to spend their first three days at an alternative local quarantine (ATQ) before travelling under the "sealed route programme" for another three days.
From the seventh day, visitors can switch hotels and travel to more destinations but they must use services from tourism operators with the Safety and Health Administration (SHA) Plus certificate.
"Tourists will have more choices from the seventh day, but the key principle is that the staff who provide services must be fully vaccinated," he said.
Vaccinations are being sped up in districts scheduled to reopen next month to reach a target of 70% of the population, he said.
The sealed route programmes will reduce Covid-19 risks to residents and domestic travellers, he said while noting locals are considering replacing "sealed route" with other words to make visitors feel less restricted.
When asked about his hopes for the sealed route programme, Mr Rattanachai said that as long as the local economy does not remain stagnant it is good enough.
Despite the SOPs and the sealed route programme, there are concerns in the business community about Covid-19's spread linked to the PMO scheme, he admitted.
However, it is time for Pattaya, bruised by prolonged Covid-19 restrictions, to move forward and preparations are being made to respond to untoward incidents.
"That's why we came up with "Pattaya Move On." We are not waiting for the pandemic to come to an end. The private sector deserves the credit for making it happen," he said.
Mr Rattanachai said Pattaya is also pinning its hopes on foreign businessmen attending meetings related to the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) scheme which covers Rayong, Chon Buri and Chacheongsao provinces.
Not a strong season
Thanet Supornsahasrungsi, acting president of the Chon Buri Tourism Council, said even though October marks the start of tourism season, tourist arrivals are expected to be around 20%-30% of those pre-Covid-19.
Citing tour operators, he said that only 20% of arrivals are holidaymakers while the 80% are those who have family, businesses or manufacturing investments in Thailand and seek a long-term stay.
"Pattaya is close to Bangkok and the visitors are most likely to be business operators or investors who want a long stay. If they are Covid-19 free after 14 days, they can travel anywhere," he said.
As for holidaymakers, the PMO scheme is expected to draw visitors from Russia and some European countries who want to spend their breaks in warm countries, said Mr Thanet.
However, he said that Russian tour operators see Pattaya's sealed route programme as "restricted" when compared with programmes offered by the Maldives, Egypt and Venezuela, which are Thai competitors for the Russian market. "But I think getting started is better than doing nothing," he said.
He also said that if Thailand endorses the AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured in India, the South Asian country will be a potential market for the PMO scheme.
Attractive sealed routes crucial
Pattaya mayor Sontaya Kunplome said even though the PMO is a collaboration between the public and private sectors, the local administration does not decide which operators will take part in the sealed route programme and participation is on a voluntary basis.
The Pattaya City and the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) support the scheme by designating tourism areas and allocating time slots to keep foreign visitors and local tourists apart.
"The sealed route programmes for foreign visitors are arranged separately and tourists from different groups will not mingle. The tour programmes are mainly natural attractions because curbs on entertainment businesses have not been eased yet," he said.
Mr Sontaya also pointed out that businessmen taking part in EEC meetings are required to travel under another set of Covid-19 restrictions, which are different from the sealed route programme being introduced for tourists.
Good planning the key
Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai, chief of the Department of Health, said that unlike Phuket, Pattaya is not an island where controlling virus transmission is easier. In addition, the vaccination rate in Pattaya is still lower than Phuket which has achieved over 70% of the population.
Pattaya's vaccination rate has reached 40% and it is expected to achieve 70% in October. One challenge is how the local authority will be able to keep the situation under control and within the health system's capacity to treat patients after the reopening.
For the Phuket Sandbox, he said, the resort island has controlled disease outbreaks well. "Pattaya and Phuket are prime tourism destinations. Still, to reopen for foreign tourists, Pattaya needs more effort to make sure the city will be safe after reopening.
"The city also needs to prepare a contingency plan in case of emergency and a quick plan to control an outbreak. Semi-lockdowns could be also added if needed," he said.