Thailand After COVID: Where is Everybody?

My first trip after the pandemic to the Land of Smiles surprised me by the fact that there were fewer smiles – and people in general. 

Many cafes and restaurants we used to go to have ceased to exist. Even in once-bustling Pattaya, there are empty beaches and hotels that are not operating. Where did everyone go?

Bangkok, Pattaya, and Phuket reopened on October 1, 2022. All COVID restrictions were lifted just as the dry season, which is considered the high season in Thailand, began. It has been six months, and there has been no tourist boom.

Now, the absence of European and American tourists is evident. There are significantly fewer guests from China than before, even though not so long ago, Thailand was very popular among the middle class.

Before the pandemic, you had to get up before dawn to occupy a chair on Jomtien Beach (Pattaya). Today, it is kilometers of deserted beaches where desperate fruit and trinket sellers try to sell something to rare vacationers.

Many businesses did not survive the pandemic: bankrupt cafes, vacant buildings, and shuttered hotels everywhere. 

The Adriatic Palace Hotel on the first line of the Gulf of Siam is a 32-story skyscraper, almost all of whose rooms have a stunning sea view. The cleaner sweeps the leaves every day, but the hotel’s windows remain dark in the evening. It doesn’t work.

The crowd on the famous Walking Street entertainment district has significantly thinned out. Before, tickets were even sold for tours here. 

There were particularly many groups from China. Conservative Chinese workers used to come here in the evenings with a guide to see “their morals.” 

Today, this street isn’t different from others in Pattaya. The bright inviting signs remain, but the eyes are full of sadness.

Official statistics from Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism and Sports confirm that about 40 million guests visited the country in 2019, before the pandemic. 

For comparison, only 10 million tourists visited the country in the entire last year. 

Before the pandemic, during the winter and spring months, the country welcomed up to 4 million tourists, and this year, almost half as many.

Maybe not enough time has passed for tourists to rediscover Thailand. Or maybe COVID has shifted our travel patterns. Perhaps, most tourists choose to travel close to home to avoid getting stuck in a foreign country, again. 

Time will tell. But at the moment, Thailand is open for business and craving attention.