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“Everywhere they go in Pattaya they have We Chat giving them suggestions all the time. And if you consider that China has a billion people, if you can get them all plugged in by word of mouth via social media, that’s your marketing.” The show, however, seems to need little help in the marketing department.
It hosts two annual transgender beauty pageants – Miss Tiffany’s Universe and Miss International Queen – which attract contestants from around the world.
At night the groups are taken for a wander along Walking Street – with its maze of girlie bars – or to the Tiffany’s Show.
Although notorious for its “nightlife entertainment”, a euphemism for the prostitution, Pattaya has a different allure for the Chinese, according to Ding.
The crackdown, initiated to stop the scamming of Chinese tourists that was harming Thailand’s reputation, led to a 30 per cent drop in the number of visitors from China in the last quarter of 2016.
The cheap tours and shopping scams quietly resumed in Thailand last year, however, after the crackdown lost steam.
Nevertheless, Chinese group tours help keep Tiffany’s – and hotels in Pattaya – packed, even during the traditional low season between May and September.
“For Chinese tourists there is no low season, or high season; they travel 12 months a year,” says Suwat Paepiromrat, director of sales and marketing at the Eastern Grand Palace hotel in Pattaya, which specialises in catering to Chinese tour groups.
Kevin Ding, a native of China’s Shanxi province, moved to Pattaya eight years ago to set up an online real estate agency targeting the Chinese market.
In September 2016, Thai authorities impounded 2,150 tour buses belonging to three Thai companies that provided the buses free of charge to Chinese tourist agencies.
In return, the visitors were forced to spend at select shops.
They feature Chinese sets, costumes and Mandarin songs lip-synched by the performers.
“In the beginning we had a lot of [Chinese] group tours coming to Tiffany’s, but now the market has changed,” Phanthusak says.
This year’s Miss International Queen contest on March 9 will see the entry of a Miss China (Macau).