Opinion Editorial: What’s in Store for Pattaya in 2024

2023 is in the rear view window and here we are, at the start of a fresh new year, a brand new slate, and plenty of ambitious promises and goals from Thai government officials.

2023 was a year of further recovery from the disastrous impact the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions had on Thailand’s economy, in particular a tourism driven one like Pattaya. Pattaya’s economy is about 90 percent driven on tourism, both in the legitimate and so-called grey sector and as a result was obviously decimated for about two and a half years, and has still not fully recovered to 2019 numbers according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). That being said, Thailand saw about 28 million foreign tourists/visitors in 2023, but far short of the 40 million in 2019.

In 2023 Pattaya saw roughly 23 million tourists, with a significant number of them domestic, according to the TAT. The goal for 2024 is 27 million which on paper sounds ambitious but the TAT believes it is wholly possible with continued strong domestic tourism and the hopeful return of Chinese tourists, which is a big question mark.

Let’s look at those two things for a moment. First, domestic tourism. Covid-19 actually strongly benefitted domestic tourism in Pattaya as the city changed focus from foreign tourism (It had no choice with borders closed or restricted for over two years) and instead focused on drawing visitors from around Thailand to Pattaya, especially Bangkok and Eastern provinces. Pattaya began an aggressive strategy of weekly events, from sports, music, food, culture, and more along with promotions to bring more domestic tourists to Pattaya.

It worked, stronger than they could have ever anticipated and Pattaya became and continues to be an extremely popular destination for domestic tourists, especially from Bangkok, on holidays and weekends. As a result, in 2024 Pattaya has committed to a similar aggressive strategy of weekly events to encourage tourism and, yes, most of them will be aimed at Thai tourists and not foreign tourists and centred around holidays and weekends.

Local residents, however, while certainly understanding the significance of tourism to the economy of Pattaya, especially those who saw first hand the devastation during Covid-19 restrictions of businesses and thousands in food handout lines, have mixed feelings on these constant events. The issue, at the core, is not the events but the fact that in its current form the infrastructure of the city traffic wise can’t really support the number of tourists visiting. This, as a result, brings many headaches in terms of traffic around Pattaya.

Many plans and proposals are in place to alleviate these problems, including some aggressive ones like a Bangkok style BTS system, but we will see if this comes to fruition. Regardless, it won’t be coming in 2024. What is guaranteed, however, is more traffic projects. We will cover that in a moment.

Let’s look at Chinese tourism for a moment, the second thing that is a key for Pattaya to reach 27 million tourists in 2024. Chinese tourism has not recovered to the level Thai officials had hoped for, and there are a variety of reasons for this, many of them being out of direct control of tourism officials. From a stagnating economy, to difficulty for Chinese tourists to leave China, to a popular largely fictional movie called No More Bets scaring many tourists from visiting Thailand, to several real-life instances like a Chinese tourist dying in the Siam Paragon mass shooting in Bangkok, there have been a number of obstacles in the way of the recovery of Chinese tourism in Thailand.

Thailand is betting big on an upcoming permanent visa waiver for Chinese citizens that will be reciprocal for Thai nationals (Although the number of days for this is unclear) in March, but again, many factors are out of the direct control of Thailand to bring back Chinese tourists in the large numbers we saw before the Covid-19 pandemic.

So, with the two big factors driving tourism to Pattaya discussed, domestic and foreign tourism, with China being the TAT’s biggest concern, let’s go back to traffic for a moment.

For 2024, we have already heard the city is going to experiment with one way traffic on Soi Buakhao and expand parts of Jomtien Beach Road. It is unclear when these programs will begin but both are on the agenda, along with likely finally expanding the sand on Jomtien Beach at the popular end closer to Pattaya up to near the Dongtan Police box. Again, no firm dates on these projects.

Another project finally restarted is the sports stadium in East Pattaya which will certainly increase traffic during big events, as we discussed here. There are also big plans for the Bali Hai Pier but these projects are still tied in legal limbo and may not be anytime soon.

And yes, that includes the gigantic eyesore known as the waterfront condo which continues to be a black mark on the city but whose legal route to demolition is cloudy, such as the arrest of a former mayor of Pattaya connected to that case.

One project not tied up in legal limbo is the Koh Larn Pier refurbishment which is on the agenda for this year.

So what else is in store for 2024?

We will probably finally see the afternoon 2-5 ban on alcohol sales go away. This has been proposed for ages and after recent legal extensions of nightlife hours is next on the list. We may even see later sales hours period, or earlier, for alcohol at shops.

U-Tapao airport is scheduled to see significant changes and expansions over the next few years, with an immediate plan to bring more Indian tourists.

One big thing to keep an eye on is potential debate and changes to the marijuana laws. Currently decriminalized and in a grey state, this has brought hundreds of marijuana dispensaries and cafes to Pattaya, although not everyone is a fan. Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has promised to make marijuana medical only this year but it remains to be seen if this will truly happen and if it will affect the shops in Pattaya. That promise was over three months ago and there seems to be little political will and public interest in putting the genie back in the bottle, so this could change…and it could not. In recent NIDA polls of the Thai public in their top ten priorities for the Thai government to tackle and solve, marijuana didn’t even make the list. Instead, most Thais are much more concerned with air pollution and a proposed 10,000 baht digital wallet handout.

Finally, there are also proposals on the horizon to legalise prostitution. Of course, officials have claimed for years there is no prostitution in Pattaya, but the reality is that the grey sector is a significant part of the tourist economy in Pattaya, whether one likes it or not. These proposals are likely to pass as they have support from both the current government and the opposition in a rare time when both sides agree it’s time for a change and to stop saying the problem doesn’t exist. This has the potential to make major changes in Pattaya specifically, but as to exactly how it does so is unclear. This proposal is part of several Move Forward Party proposals, including the Marriage Equality quality Act recently approved by the Cabinet which will legally allow gay marriage in Thailand and give more rights to transgender individuals.

At the end of the day, it could be a big year for Pattaya, and as always, we will be here to cover it..we have some big plans ourselves for 2024, click here for a short video previewing those.

I hope you enjoyed this short (for me) preview of 2024 and thank all of our readers for their support. Have a safe and Happy New Year.

Adam Judd, Chief of Content, Co-Founder, Co-Owner TPN Media

January 5th, 2024.

Adam Judd
Mr. Adam Judd is the Co-owner of TPN Media since December 2017. He is originally from Washington D.C., America, but has also lived in Dallas, Sarasota, and Portsmouth. His background is in retail sales, HR, and operations management, and has written about news and Thailand for many years. He has lived in Pattaya for over nine years as a full-time resident, is well known locally and been visiting the country as a regular visitor for over a decade. His full contact information, including office contact information, can be found on our Contact Us page below. Stories please e-mail Editor@ThePattayanews.com About Us: https://thepattayanews.com/about-us/ Contact Us: https://thepattayanews.com/contact-us/