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Pattaya has ranked 15th in Mastercard’s recently released Global Destination Cities Index 2019.

That’s 15th! If you are sitting reading this in the resort city I hope you are not thinking that’s “only to be expected”.

In my book, it’s a little short of amazing.

A quick glance at numbers 16-20 might give my assertion more credence.

The cities trailing Pattaya are (in order): Milan, Barcelona, Palma (Majorca), Bali and Hong Kong.

Milan.
Barcelona.

Little old Pattaya, former ‘sleepy’ fishing village (is there any other kind?), outstrips a destination like Hong Kong. I’m guessing these figures were put together before the SAR (special administrative region) started to have its troubles over democratic rights. Good luck to the protestors with that, by the way! Sadly, I think it is only a matter of time before China fully asserts its authority.

The Mastercard statistics are based on the number of international overnight visitors each city has.

Top of the Mastercard tree is Bangkok with Paris second. The French capital has nudged London into third place.

Phuket is one step ahead of Pattaya at 14.

Given these figures from the bank card company I feel it is safe to say that, in international overnight visitor terms at least, Thailand is one of the world’s leading countries for tourism – maybe the leading one given it has three cities in the top 20.

However – there’s always a however – if you look at the recommendations in the Lonely Planet Best in Travel 2020 guide which appeared a couple of weeks back (October 22) Thailand is nowhere to be seen in its top 10 best destinations ratings.

According to Lonely Planet, Bhutan in the Himalayas is the place to be.

Bhutan.

The balance of its top 10 is as follows: 2 England; 3 North Macedonia; 4 Aruba; 5 eSwatini; 6 Costa Rica; 7 The Netherlands; 8 Liberia; 9 Morocco; and 10 Uruguay.

Some list, huh?

I have a suggestion for a game to play to fill half an hour at Christmas … give everyone a map of the world with the countries blanked out and ask your guests to plot the above 10 on the map.

Maybe a bit mean.

I was keen on geography as school, gaining my only ‘A’ in it at O-Level, but I would struggle to plot half of them. Aruba? North Macedonia? I wasn’t too sure about Bhutan for that matter and as for eSwatini – are they having a laugh?

I have since discovered that eSwatini is the new name for what used to be Swaziland in southern Africa. There, that’s something new I’ve learnt.

Indeed, Thailand doesn’t feature anywhere in Lonely Planet’s top 10s listed below.

The top 10 cities: Salzburg, Austria; Washington DC, USA; Cairo, Egypt; Galway, Ireland; Bonn, Germany; La Paz, Bolivia; Kochi, India; Vancouver, Canada; Dubai, UAE; and Denver, USA.

Vancouver.

Top 10 regions: Central Asian Silk Road; Le Marche, Italy; Tohuku, Japan; Maine, USA; Lord Howe Island, Australia; Guizhou Province, China; Cadiz Province, Spain; North-east Argentina; Kvarner Gulf, Croatia; and the Brazilian Amazon.

Top 10 best value: East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia; Budapest, Hungary; Madhya Pradesh, India; Buffalo, USA; Azerbaijan; Serbia; Tunisia; Cape Winelands, South Africa; Athens, Greece; and Zanzibar, Tanzania.

I’m sure there was a time when Thailand would have featured well in many of the categories above.

Regarding Lonely Planet I’ve always viewed it as a sort of backpackers’ bible. Perhaps it’s unfair to pigeon-hole the guides in this way, but that is my perception.

For me, Lonely Planet is always on the look-out for the next best thing, the Robinson Crusoe-style beach that only one man and his dog know about. That kind of thing. Nothing wrong in that.

The problem with the guides, however, is that, once they have alerted you to the next big destination, it soon becomes knackered. That idyllic beach hideaway gets filled with people consulting their Lonely Planet guidebooks and it’s never the same again.

Thailand’s Phi Phi Leh island is a perfect example of a hideaway that suffered from being discovered and revealed. In the 2000 movie The Beach it was depicted as the kind of place that could only be reached after a dangerous swim. A backpacking paradise well removed from the nasty capitalistic world.

So many tourists have visited Maya Bay on the island in the ensuing years that the authorities decided to call a halt to give it ‘a rest’. That was in June of last year. It was due to be closed to the 5,000-a-day tourists for just a few months, but the ban has been extended until 2021 to give the environment more time to recuperate.

There is little doubt that Thailand is a great place for tourism. How many of you reading this liked a holiday here so much that you decided to stay?

But, there are signs that tourist activity may be stalling. Certainly, Europeans are not coming in such great numbers, but the Chinese seem to be filling that ‘gap’.

When I started visiting at the turn of the millennium my view could be summed up by: Long flight and pricey, but, once there the cost of everything was cheap and more than a little cheerful.

That has changed considerably. The flights are not any shorter or less expensive but now, thanks in no small part to a strong baht, the cheap no longer accompanies the cheerful.

At one time TAT (the Tourist Authority of Thailand) was predicting tourism figures in excess of 40 million for this year. Now the number has been revised to just short of that magic figure (39-39.8 million – a drop of 1.2 to 0.4 million).

Problem? Yes, of course, tourism is very important to Thailand. Web research tells me that it contributes close to a fifth (19.3%) of the country’s GDP (gross domestic product).

While that figure sound high to me, there is no doubting its significance.

Maybe Thailand is content that the strong baht deters Cheap Charlies from visiting. But the country still needs tourists – and plenty of them.

It will be interesting to see where the Thai cities are in next year’s Mastercard ratings. I would like to see Pattaya climb even higher. But, let’s see.

It’s great that the resort city is in such vaunted company. The trick is to stay there.