Is Russian ‘Invasion’ of Thailand Just a Myth?

There’s been a good deal of hoopla this past week about the impact of Russians on Pattaya and its economy. But is this so-called “Russian invasion” real? I’m starting to think we’re all being had.

There’s no doubt that there’s been a huge increase in number of Russians in greater Pattaya, particularly in far-out Jomtien Beach. In some areas you’ll find store signs in Thai and Russian, but no English. Still, the numbers – and the increases — may not be as great as we’re being led to believe. There’s some strong evidence that people with something to gain financially from exaggerating Russian interest in Pattaya may be portraying the boom as greater than it is.

The Numbers Don’t Add Up

The lightning rod for the latest debate is this Deutche Press-Agentur article in the June 2 Bangkok Post. In it, DPA Thailand Bureau Chief Peter Janssen claims that 889,656 Russians visited Pattaya in 2007, up 84 percent from the year before. However, Janssen, in a case of classic sloppy journalism, doesn’t cite the source of that data.

It certainly doesn’t seem to have come from the Tourism Authority of Thailand, whose own website shows that only 277,503 Russians arrived anywhere in Thailand via land, air or sea during 2007. And TAT’s says that, in 2006, only 187,658 Russians came to the Land of Smiles. That’s an increase of only 48 percent. And, again, that’s for all of Thailand, so the numbers visiting Pattaya are even lower.

So, where did the numbers come from? From the industry that has the most to gain from creating the perception Pattaya is the hottest market on the planet and the most to lose from the recent political turmoil, economic slowdown in Britain and America, soaring oil prices and skyrocketing airfares: The property developers.

In yet another example of sloppy, or even influenced, reporting, Janssen lifted the “statistics” from a self-promoting piece of PR fluff from Raimon Land, one of Thailand’s largest property developers. Pattaya Daily News, which also reported Raimon’s pseudo-news, at least properly attributed the source of the information.

According to Raimon Land CEO Nigel Cornick’s recent edition of the definitive (The Ghost: definitive?) property guide “Why Invest … Pattaya,” the Russians and Scandinavians have now displaced the Brits and Germans as the main property investors in Pattaya, which is particularly good news for developers in this fair city. And although the Russians have been coming here for the past 10 years, it’s only in the past two that they have started to buy up Pattaya properties.

Janssen didn’t see fit to point out his source was a property agent’s fluff rag, instead only quoting the following, as did Pattaya Daily News:

Last year, Russian buyers accounted for 22 per cent, or 7.7 million dollars of condominium sales made by Raimon Land, the developer of such luxury, beachside properties as Northshore Pattaya and Northpoint, which sell for more than 4,000 dollars per square metre.

Developers in Panic Mode

So there you have it. The Brits and Germans aren’t buying the number of condos they used to – Northpoint is far below sales expectations according to local media – and the recent turmoil is scaring away the Asian tourists. The Nation newspaper reported Tuesday that up to 50% of condominums will fail in Bangkok due to over-supply. Developers clearly have gone into panic mode.

So who’s left as buyers? The Russians.

“Yup, there were a lot of them here last year,” Raimon’s Cormick must have been thinking. “Let’s make up some numbers to make them think the market is so hot that if they don’t get in now, they might never.”

Of course, that’s just plain cynical and evil-minded. It may be, in fact, that Raimon didn’t make up the numbers but got them from TAT’s local Pattaya office, which follows what all the regioal TAT offices do — get their visitor numbers from hotels, not Immigration. That means if a Russian family of 4 visits 3 different hotels, they’re counted as 12 Russian visitors, not 4. It appears only the main TAT office counts viistor numbers provided by the Immigration Bureau. Again, yet another reason Thailand will never be a world power.

Regardless of how the numbes were derrived, the bonus for Raimon is that he some German hack wrote it as the gospel, setting off fireworks on blogs and message boards. Happy with some good news coming out about the country, the Thai government’s “National News Bureau,” spoon fed a story to some Phuket cable news channel that Pattaya, Phuket and Koh Samui are now the favorite tourist destinations for all Russians. Wow. All Russians. Imagine that.

Voices of Reason

Fortunately, not everyone swallowed the pabulum whole. Thailand Crisis, one of the most intellectual, informative and unique blogs about Thailand’s government and economy – and one that got banned for quite a while inside Thailand – brought the Janssen / Raimon / media incestry to my attention. T.C. took particular aim at the Pattaya Daily news report:

The paper has one ultimate weapon: the Russians. The invasion of Russians, I should say. They are the new suckers (sorry, “investors“) for the Dump (AKA Pattaya). Rumors say that they have plenty of money, and very bad taste (but that’s okay for Pattaya, it’s even a proof of good faith.)

Ok, so T.C. doesn’t like Pattaya, but he’s got a point. Time will tell if the Ruskies figure out their being had before the vultures fly off with all their rubles. 


For more stories like this on on Pattaya, plesae visit The Pattaya Ghost.