Pattaya can be lots of things to different people. Fundamentally at its core is actually not nightlife and bar girls (an image I am quite sure Thailand does want to shake off) but at its absolute core is its budget positioning in the market. Consider the tourists, regardless of nationality, it is the more budget traveler; and the same applies to at the average expat too.
I meet with lots of hoteliers throughout the Kingdom and because I live in Pattaya it is a common conversation as to whether Pattaya can ever shake this position off. I think no, but perhaps surprisingly some of the hoteliers say yes.
For me, Pattaya being budget is a good thing. I can eat out in some quality restaurants yet get charged what is still a low price by global comparisons. It may be budget but the overall offer of Pattaya still attracts expats to live here from all walks of life and that means a restaurant for every nationality, and more often that not too many restaurants at that. This is not driven by demand but more by the expat setting up their own restaurant. So what we get is an over supply of restaurants and this combined with a budget consumer equates to unbeatable prices.
What opened my eyes to Pattayas budget position was when one hotel General Manager who works in the city said his group class all of Pattaya as ‘budget traveler’. From all the locations he has work across the world this was a first for him. Normally at least parts of a town are ear marked for more affluent travelers, according to him this is not the case in Pattaya.
Now at this point I am sure any readers who are from Pattaya are saying what about the Hilton or Holiday Inn as casing exceptions to this rule. True but 5 or 6 exceptions when there are probably a few thousand hotels and guest rooms in the region does not give Pattaya depth. Don’t get me wrong either, I love this towns position and also all that it offers.
Pattaya has evolved, but how much further can it go?
Ten years ago this town was for older single guys, not families. There were no water parks or Tiger parks for example. So the town has gone through a visible transformation; but its lower end price point has stayed consistent.
The issue is how can Pattaya look to upscale and start knocking back the Chinese tour groups, for example, when it cannot plug the gap left: Who can Pattaya appeal too that will spend more money? One hotelier in Bangkok said legalizing gambling could overnight fix this issue but – besides the online whispers and rumours that just do not buy – I just don’t see this happening. It is just not in the Thai make up and I am not so sure the impact would be positive too. Pattaya would not become a Las Vegas or Macau now would it?
Improved transport links like the high speed train from Bangkok and further development of U-Tapao international airport will assist – but what comes first the more high brow attractions or the higher spending consumer? It is a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. A rebrand of Pattaya would need to be of epic proportions and there are more obvious areas in Thailand that can be better shaped and scaled to attract affluent tourists. So, my point is, why focus on Pattayas positioning over another regions.
In summary, Pattaya is Pattaya and offers a fantastic range of attractions, restaurants, bars and year round warm climate. Why fix something that is not broken for what it does and where it is positioned in the market?