Due to the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic international borders have been closed for foreign tourists for almost eight months decimating Thailand’s lucrative tourism industry.
In places like Pattaya, Samui and Phuket that have in some cases thousands of entertainment venues designed for foreigners this has caused many business owners to rethink how they do business. Pattaya and Phuket in particular rely on tourism for as much as 90 percent of their GDP. Both cities welcomed approximately ten million tourists in 2019 with tens of thousands of new tourists arriving daily. That is all over, for now.
Although Western tourists had been declining in recent years Asian, Indian and Russian tourists had increased and the area was still busy at least in foot traffic. Now, hundreds of places sit shuttered and closed across Thailand’s tourist cities, many permanently with for sale signs up. Some are waiting until borders will open but as the pandemic rages on worldwide, despite Thailand appearing to officially be free of locally spread cases, that may be a long wait.
So, many business owners are now thinking out of the box. Some, like the Panda Club on Walking Street in Pattaya are thriving after refocusing on the Thai audience and promoting and advertising to Thai people vs. their prior audience of Asian tourists.
Some foreign facing venues that previously banned Thai men or transgender people from the premises for various reasons are now welcoming them in, happy for any business. Some venues have reopened as restaurants or karaoke bars catering on domestic tourism. Hotels catering to foreigners have become quarantine centers for Thai Nationals being repatriated from overseas.
Oh, and many bars have turned to livestreaming on social media and other internet platforms to make up lost revenue and let customers from overseas connect and chat online with mostly female bar staff. These aren’t explicit chats in any way, just generally girls interacting with customers from around the world, keeping guys company who are stuck in countries with heavy restrictions and the pandemic still raging.
A walk through a previously popular beer bar complex with dozens of bars earlier this week in Central Pattaya show only a few customers, mostly long term retired expats. It also showed many bars, some with special lighting setups and backdrops, focused on live streaming dancing bar girls around the world and also focused on connecting people who are stuck in countries struggling with lockdowns and heavy social restrictions to be able to chat with the opposite sex and remember their visits to Pattaya and its world famous nightlife.
It’s working, also, at least at some bars. Some bars have even reportedly made thousands of US dollars and have huge dedicated audiences. A look through live chats can see some full of dozens to even hundreds of people from around the world interacting with girls, joking with them and sending them drinks, of which they get a commision, from around the world. Some bars have even started performing popular weekly shows well beyond just girls dancing and expanding to live online music, interviews with local residents and highlights of the city.
These live steamed chats are tame and don’t feature anything explicit but do allow locked out foreign customers from around the world to remember a bit of their Pattaya experience and if they wish to send donations or money. But not everyone is happy.
Many foreign expats still in Pattaya have commented online they dislike the growing trend and have stated several reasons. One of the biggest concerns is customers potentially being filmed without their permission, although most bars now appear to be going out of their way to avoid this. Another common complaint is the girls potentially ignoring customers still in the bars in person to concentrate on virtual money. Some complain they don’t understand why anyone would ever want to send money to a bargirl online. (Coming, however, from someone who is actually normally in Pattaya and Thailand during the current pandemic). Finally, some are worried this may be permanent well beyond border opening.
A look at the live video chats also shows the majority of bar staff are not professional YouTube or twitch or Onlyfans hosts and have not yet mastered how to engage with their audience, however those skills seem to be developing as the border closure goes on. There are also questions on as the practice spreads across Pattaya what authorities think who have so far officially been mum on the subject.
For now, however, the practice appears to be set to stay and according to some bar owners is literally saving their business.
What do you think? Is the growing trend worrying or should bar owners be commended for finding an innovative and creative way to make revenue during the unprecedented Covid-19 crisis? Leave us a message in comments or write us a follow-up and send it to Pattayanewseditor@gmail.com.