On Deck: Pattaya jumps aboard marine tourism trend

PHUKET: Yachting in the Gulf of Thailand is nothing new but it is fair to say that the Andaman Sea region has grown much more quickly and has a much larger marine leisure industry than the Gulf of Thailand.

Think Phuket and Pattaya; some would say they are chalk and cheese on so many levels. While Phuket’s abundance of nearby islands and stunning cruising grounds are known around the globe and exploited by the TAT at every opportunity, Pattaya and surrounds are often given scant attention. The region is overlooked.

But not for much longer.

The Gulf of Thailand, however, is home to 187 islands – a fact often unknown or conveniently ignored (you decide). Ocean Marina – the only international standard marina in the area – is in fact the largest in Southeast Asia. It has more than 380 berths and space for further expansion.

Pattaya’s marine industry is driven by boats predominantly owned by Thai and expat residents, and the marine tourism craft used predominantly for day trips.

The number of visiting international yachts are few and far between. While Phuket welcomes between 1,200 and 1,500 international yachts in any given year, the number that visit Pattaya annually can be counted on two hands.

The problem isn’t the onshore facilities, which are impressive. The issue has been with the Customs Department, and in particular the application of the law on the temporary import of personal ‘vehicles’, under which yachts fall.

The law itself is quite clear. An international visiting yacht can receive a six months stay upon request, which can be extended another six months and potentially up to 18 months if all relevant conditions are met. This has been the case for a long time in Phuket and the results are there for all to see. However, application in Pattaya has not been the same.

In general, the Customs Department in Pattaya have followed the Immigration Department’s lead. When a skipper receives a visa upon arrival, the Customs Department allows the yacht to be temporarily imported for between two to four weeks to match the skipper’s visa.

This results in few international yachts entering the Gulf of Thailand but this has now changed following a recent announcement by the region’s Customs Department.

“The Customs Department in Pattaya has agreed that the ‘Temporary Importation Permit for Visiting Foreign Vessels’ will allow international yachts to stay for up to six months at a time, and can be extended in-country. This opens up the region’s potential to visiting yachts from overseas,” noted Mrs Montira Cherdchoo, the director of the Map Ta Phut Customs House, at a recent press conference.

Dr Tirachai Pipitsupaphol, the managing director of Ocean Property, who has been lobbying the Customs Department to apply the rule fairly and equally for all of Thailand, said, “Many people are not aware of the beauty of this region. There are 187 islands in the Gulf of Thailand, with 43 within one hour by boat of Ocean Marina itself. The cruising grounds are spectacular and the extended stay allowed for foreign yachts will help open up the region. This is a very positive move and the region is ready to welcome more than a thousand foreign yachts annually.”

What does this mean for Pattaya?

There will be two very clear positive impacts for the marine industry. Firstly, more international yachts will visit the area, meaning more money spent in the local economy and marine industry.

Secondly, boats will stay longer in the area. What this means is boats will cruise around the Gulf of Thailand, spending more time and money in the region, and spreading that money around the region further. On the back of this, expect to see the area’s refit and repair industry grow. The facilities are there, the skills and craftsmanship are present and Pattaya’s proximity to Bangkok adds to the draw.

What does this mean for Phuket’s marine industry? In one word: competition.

Duncan Worthington is a long time Phuket resident and through Infinity Communications (www.infinity-comms.com) consults to leading consumer brands, hospitality and marine clients in Thailand. In his ‘spare time’ he runs the marine portal www.MarineScene.asia. #OnDeckPhuket

— Duncan Worthington

Pattaya NewsThai Life
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